Art’s Hidden Stories
Paige Insalaco explores the hidden stories and controversies surround famous artwork and evaluates how their mysteries make them increasingly famous.
Whether as a result of technique or content, art has been a medium through which humans have expressed themselves and understood the world for thousands of years. The stories and motivations behind art continue to motivate generations of students to study art history to try to better understand the visual enrichment surrounding us.
So, what makes the stories behind art so fascinating? Mystery is certainly a key element as debate and intrigue are prominent in key works that continue to hold the public’s attention. The Mona Lisa, for instance, easily one of the most famous works of all time, is shrouded in mystery as it’s believed the painting portrays Lady Gherardini. However, there’s no historical evidence of this painting being commissioned by the family. Therefore, questions are still being asked as to who the subject of the painting is. Additionally, a conspiracy surrounds the Mona Lisa as its reported that an array of numbers and letters are painted into her eyes which can be seen under a microscope. These elements of mystery create an intrigue that has certainly added to the fame of the Mona Lisa.
… mystery and debate continue to increase the value of art as people are more likely to talk about something that doesn’t have a solid answer. “
The Arnolfini Portrait is another painting which gains large amounts of fame from the mystery surrounding the subjects of the painting. The painting depicts a man and a woman holding hands in a room whilst a mirror reveals there are two other people standing in the room who are not the focus of the painting. Many historians suspect the couple have just married and the other people are there to act as witnesses. However, the woman is painted wearing a headpiece that she could only be wearing if she were already married. Therefore, other historians suspect the purpose of the painting is to depict the good standing of Arnolfini as a merchant. Although less famous than the Mona Lisa, especially by name, the Arnolfini Portrait is still incredibly well known and almost everyone would recognise it if they saw it. This fame is largely a result of the confusing provenance as historians can’t agree on the scene being portrayed or the purpose of the portrait. As such, mystery and debate continue to increase the value of art as people are more likely to talk about something that doesn’t have a solid answer. The more people know of the art and talk about it, the more value the piece gains.
… artwork gains value and fame through its portrayal of social and political scenes”
Art is historically known for its tendency to be controversial in nature and there are many pieces which have gained huge amounts of fame this way. Banksy’s shredding portrait for instance is known by just about everybody. In this way, artwork gains value and fame through its portrayal of social and political scenes. Two incredibly valuable pieces of art, Starry Night by Van Gogh and The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, convey social issues in that they were both painted whilst the artists were in a psychosis. Gogh’s starry night is said to depict the view from his window at his treatment facility. Knowing this information leads us to view the paintings in a different light and analyse them in different ways meaning they stay with us longer.
It is clear to see that the value of art is greatly influenced by the content and the context in which it was painted. This is largely because society is more interested in art that has an interesting story to it so it’s more renowned and wanted which drives up the price.