10 Unsolved Art Mysteries

The art world has concealed compelling mysteries since the beginning of time Just think of the puzzle of the pyramids or the mystery of the Mona Lisa

And just like them, some mysteries never seem to find an answer 10) THE BOSTON ART HEIST OF 1990: In 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole 13 works of art According to the police report, the intruders handcuffed the security guards, bound them with duct tape and left them in the basement

In fewer than 90 minutes the bandits stole $500 million worth of art, including three Rembrandts, Vermeer’s painting The Concert, and five Degas drawings It wasn’t until 2013 that law enforcement was finally onto something The FBI suspected the thieves were members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England Interesting, but not really a turning point But then, in 2017, Dutch private investigator Arthur Brand said former members of the Irish Republican Army revealed to him that “it was common knowledge these paintings were probably in the hands of the [IRA]

” However, despite promising leads, the Boston heist of 1990 remains unsolved 9) VINCENT VAN GOGH’S DEATH: For decades, it went unquestioned that Vincent Van Gogh committed suicide by shotting himself in the chest But in 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith suggested Van Gogh’s fatal wound could not have been self-inflicted But then, if Van Gogh didn’t pull the trigger, who did? According to the biographers, the artist was fatally shot by wayward 16-year-old René Secrétan The bourgeois boy was well known for bullying people in the small village where Van Gogh died

René’s father was a powerful figure in the village community, and Vincent had no friends The suicide story might be a cover-up, and the whole village supported it to protect René’s family On the other hand, Van Gogh’s friend Émile Bernard strongly believed that Vincent killed himself, and Van Gogh’s last words were reportedly “I tried to kill myself” And so the debate goes on 8) THE MEANING OF THE NAZCA LINES: The Nazca Lines were discovered in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the advent of air travel that they finally became famous all over the world, revealing one of history’s greatest mysteries The lines are located in a region of Peru, approximately 400 kilometres southeast of Lima, near the modern town of Nazca Some of the lines are 50 metres long, while others are up to 1 kilometre They are so big, and the land around them so flat, that the artwork cannot be appreciated from the ground

How were they formed? And why? Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nazca people, who flourished until AD 700 Given the astonishing size and complexity of the designs, theorists like Swiss author Erich von Däniken, claim that the Nazca people couldn’t possibly have etched the designs without being able to fly Therefore, they must have been helped by aliens, at least – or maybe aliens drew the lines themselves? Von Däniken was convinced some of the drawings, such as The Astronaut, are alien self-portraits

On the other hand, experts like National Geographic Explorer Johan Reinhard believe the lines were most likely drawn as part of rituals to bring more water in a primarily desert area 7) THE MAN HIDDEN UNDER “THE BLUE ROOM” OF PICASSO: In 1901, at the beginning of his Blue Period, Pablo Picasso painted The Blue Room More than a century later, in 2008, thanks to advanced infrared imagery, scientists and art conservators at the Phillips Collection in Washington discovered a hidden portrait under Picasso’s blue painting The portrait depicts a man dressed in a jacket and bow tie, with his bearded face resting on his hand with three rings on his fingers Further technical analysis confirmed the hidden portrait was a work that Picasso had probably painted just before The Blue Room

But who is the man in the painting? Experts have excluded the possibility that it was a self-portrait Instead, the man in the picture might be Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who hosted Picasso’s first show in 1902 However, no records or other clues remain, so the search for his identity continues 6) CARAVAGGIO’S SECRET GUILT: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian painter active from 1590 to 1610 He is remembered for his dark, dramatic compositions, and his powerful use of light that influenced Baroque paintings

But, if his paintings were dark, Caravaggio’s life was even darker In 1606, Caravaggio fled Rome in mysterious circumstances He had apparently killed a young man in a brawl, although historians think there was more to the murder

But this is not the puzzling part In 1608, Caravaggio completed The Beheading of St John the Baptist It was his largest ever painting, and unlike his earlier works, it places a biblical event in the street, like a common killing rather than the execution it was And the painter placed his signature in the martyr’s blood, which makes this the only painting ever signed by Caravaggio

Many scholars still ask, did Caravaggio compose this painting as an admission of guilt? 5) THE DISAPPEARANCE OF BAS JAN ADER: In 1975, Dutch performance artist Bas Jan Ader disappeared at sea when he was 33 years old, the same age his father was when he was executed by the Nazis in 1944 Some of his most faithful fans believe the age of the artist at the moment of his disappearance isn’t just a coincidence In fact, they claim the artist planned to disappear, in another one of his provocative performances whose meaning is yet to be found Is Ader still alive? Well, no trace of Ader’s body was ever found and, more mysteriously, the boat in which he disappeared was recovered by authorities and then stolen just before it was due to be examined Exactly who stole it and why, remains unknown

4) THE JESUS STATUE WITH REAL TEETH: In 2014, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History was in the process of restoring an 18th Century statue of Jesus, when X-ray analysis revealed an astonishing truth: the statue contained real human teeth According to head restorer Fanny Unikel, it wasn’t unusual at the time for parishioners to volunteer their hair to make wigs for saints’ statues, but teeth and nails were usually made of animal bones No one had ever seen human teeth in a sculpture before

And even more strangely, the statue’s mouth is almost completely closed So, why use a perfectly good set of human teeth if they won’t be seen? 3) BANKSY’S IDENTITY: Banksy is a British street artist who rose to prominence for his provocative stencils in the late 1990s Banksy's identity remains unknown, and the mystery around his persona has started quite a few theories One of the most supported claims is that Banksy is really Bristol artist Robin Gunningham Gunningham moved to London around the year 2000, which fits the timeline of the progression of Banksy's artwork

Another theory is that Banksy is the alter-ego of artist Damien Hirst, since the pair once collaborated on a piece And just like Hirst, many famous artists are believed to be “the real Banksy”, like Robert Del Naja, whose 1990s stencil art was akin to Banksy’s signature style More recently, in the summer of 2019, ITV News rediscovered a long-lost interview with a young man claiming to be Banksy The interview was filmed before the elusive artist’s breakthrough in 2003 The man, whose face is partially covered, is shown stencilling two pictures that have long been attributed to Banksy

However, the man featured in the ITV film does not quite match the description given by The Guardian’s writer Simon Hattenstone, when he interviewed Banksy in 2003 For now, Banksy’s real identity is safe 2) THE SPUTNIK OF VENTURA SALIMBENI: Ventura Salimbeni was an Italian Counter-Maniera painter In 1600 he painted the Glorification of the Eucharist for the San Lorenzo (san lo-ren-tzo) in San Pietro church in Montalcino (mon-tal-chi-no), in Italy The painting has in recent years become known as the Sputnik of Montalcino

That’s because at the top of the picture is an object that looks like the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 Conspiracy theorists argue that this is proof that Jesus was an alien time traveller who visited Salimbeni and showed him a model of Sputnik 1 On the other hand, sceptics say the Sputnik in the painting is a representation of the Sphaera Mundi, a spherical model of the universe found in several examples of European medieval art However, as conspiracy theorists point out, the sphere appears to be made of metal plate, which suggests it is a product of advanced engineering, rather than a medieval one The same goes for the antenna wands

One thing is sure, the sphere looks very out of place 1) THE SECRET IDENTITY OF WALTER SICKERT: Walter Sickert was a British Post-Impressionist painter and printmaker in late Victorian and early 20th century London In 2001, British author Patricia Cornwell claimed Sickert had a frightening secret identity: he was Jack the Ripper, the infamous serial killer who terrorized London in 1888 In support of her thesis, Cornwell pointed out how the painter was notorious for his shadowy, heavy scenes of female nudes, featuring women in various states of despair, including one titled Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom Cornwell even paid for forensic tests to prove Sickert and Jack were one and the same

She failed to find any DNA on the letters purportedly written by Jack the Ripper to compare with samples taken from Sickert’s desk However, one of the letters shared the same unusual watermark as Sickert’s personal writing paper Still, many Jack the Ripper theorists disagree with her, and, for now, Cornwell’s theory has yet to be proven

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