Painting Mysteries: Scandalous, Bewildering, And Almost Unbelievable

Paintings mysteries that are Scandalous, Bewildering And Almost Unbelievable

Did van Gogh really kill himself? Was Caravaggio poisoned? Did DaVinci really paint Salvator Mundi? And who exactly is Banksy?

These painting mysteries have echoed the art world for decades and some even for centuries.

Art is interpreted in various ways, so solving art mysteries takes a long time, and some; forever.

Painting mysteries have fascinated people for ages and are often surrounded by theories and assumptions.

One of the most famous mysteries of art that people know is the Mona Lisa, but painting mysteries go way beyond it.

We, humans, love to study the past, especially art that uncovers the history and tells us about forgotten times.

The art world we know is brimming with secrets that it has held for years and some even for centuries.

mona lisa ad of reproduction

But why do these paintings have such secrecy around them?

Artists throughout history have intentionally put secret messages in their paintings; often to challenge their viewers, reveal something about themselves, or make a political statement.

Tune in to find out about these 7 most painting mysteries that have baffled the art world. 

1. Who was the Girl with a Pearl Earring?

Girl with a pearl earring, a painting of a mysterious girl wearing yellow dress, blue and yellow head scarf, Peral earing and an intense gaze filled with familiarity.
Girl with a pearl earring (1665); Image:

A painting impossible to look away from; with a gaze so seductive and so memorable.

Girl with a pearl earring is a work of sublime beauty that draws us in with her glimmer.

Here the painting’s mystery lies in her pleasingly vague expression that cannot reveal what the girl is feeling in the painting, is she happy? Is she sad? Why is she looking with such longing? And for whom?

The gaze is so intense that it makes us wonder if we had known her.

The familiarity with which she looks at us is the way she is looking at the artist; Johannes Vermeer.

Many have wondered about the relationship between the girl and the painter, speculating her of being the daughter of the artist or perhaps, his mistress.

But the truth is that we may never know who the girl with a pearl earring is or even if she existed beyond the painting.

Vermeer himself is a ghostly figure in art history, we know very little about him, let alone his paintings.

This exquisite nameless girl will always remain one of the unsolved art mysteries in the world. 

2. Caravaggio – The Master Painter Who Killed, Escaped, And Was Assassinated.

Two of Caravaggio most controversial self-portraits. 
Young Sick Bacchus (1593) and David With The Head Of Goliath (1610).
Young Sick Bacchus (1593) and David With The Head Of Goliath (1610); Image:

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, a pioneer of the Baroque movement and known for his use of powerful chiaroscuro lighting and psychological realism.

He is also amongst one of the most intriguing painting mysteries of the art world whose art appears just as dramatic and violent as the life he lived.

A life of unceasing controversies and acts of chaos and mayhem; but there is always more to what meets the eye.

Before I dive deep into his misadventures, let’s learn a little about his life.

He lost his entire family to the plague when he was six and was orphaned at 11; he did everything needed to survive.  

As he progressed into adulthood, he earned a bad reputation with the law enforcers, going from one scandal to another.

The famous painter lived a short but tempestuous life that was reflected in his scandalous paintings.
But not in a stereotypical way “ohh, all great artists have a mental illness”

A recent study reveals that he may have quite literally died from his art.

But how?

The Beheading of St John the Baptist (1608)
A painting by Caravaggio depicting the it depicts the execution of John the Baptist.
this mysterious painting is the only painting he signed.
The Beheading of St John the Baptist (1608); Image:

Caravaggio showed symptoms of the disease, then called painter’s colic or today it is simply referred to as lead poisoning.

His ferocious personality and hostility are evident in his life and accounted for by authors in his biographies.

With the mention of pragmatic reasons, author Graham-Dixon shrewdly ascribed his characteristics to the toxic quality of the materials painters worked with during the Baroque period.

The toxins include solvents, iron oxides, mercury, lead, and other sulfides that may have caused brain damage, dementia, and, therefore, his infamous violent behavior.

His fugitive life starts with him killing a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni (a pimp or gangster) in a sword fight.

To save himself from the immediate consequences of his actions – Death; he fled Rome his beloved city where he would never step in again.

He arrived in Malta where he produced The Beheading of St John the Baptist (1608), the only painting he ever signed, which is also widely considered his greatest magnum opus.

What is even more interesting is that the painting is signed from the pool of blood spilling from St. John the Baptist’s neck.

The bloody signature in the painting reads “f. michelang”, which has multiple interpretations, while some believe that the “f” stands for “frater” or “brother” since he was affiliated with the order.

And others think the F stood for “fecit”, a Latin word connoting “did”, so it really reads as “Michelangelo did it”

Many often believe that his bloody signature was his admission to the murder he committed in Rome.

His death has been a matter of historical debate, but it is largely explained by the power of his art and the misfortunes of his life.

Shunned after his death, Caravaggio is today said to be the father of modern painting.

“All works, no matter what or by whom painted, are nothing but bagatelles and childish trifles… unless they are made and painted from life, and there can be nothing… better than to follow nature.”


3. The Inundation of The Biesbosch in 1421

A painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema of a cat rocking a baby's crib to keep is afloat in the middle of the sea.
The Inundation of The Biesbosch in 1421 (1856) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema; Image:

As the Sun colours flowers, so art colours life.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema

This weird and scary artwork is based on a Dutch legend.

The artwork was seen as one of the painting’s mysteries until the legend was known. 

It’s also one of the most famous paintings of still life and tells a tale from the year 1421 when the Netherlands suffered from a big flood, and various sources claim that it took at least 2 to 10 thousand lives.

When people came out after the flood to check the damage and find survivors, they noticed a baby’s crib floating near the shore.

In the crib along with the baby was a cat; jumping from one corner to another, keeping the crib afloat and balanced.

The cat was so good at it, that the sheets in which the baby was sleeping were completely dry. 

4. The death of Vincent Van Gogh: Suicide or Murder?

Self-portraits by the genius but misunderstood artist; Vincent Van Gogh.
Van Gogh’s self-portrait (1889) and Self-Portrait (1889); Image: and

It is widely accepted that Vincent Van Gogh killed himself, but few findings have led people to believe that he was murdered.

The death of Vincent van Gogh is considered to be one of the biggest painting mysteries.  

On 27 July 0f 1890, he went to the fields to paint, like he usually does, and sometime during he shot himself in the chest, lost consciousness, re-awoken, and wobbled back to the inn he was staying in.  

Death did not come easy to him, he died days later telling the doctor, his brother, and the questioning officer that he shot himself at his will and insisted that no one is to blame.

“My body is mine and I am free to do what I want with it. Do not accuse anybody, it is I that wished to commit suicide.” 

Few circumstantial pieces of evidence say otherwise –  

  • It is very difficult to shoot one’s self at the location where he was shot.
  • As per Van Gogh’s statement is shot himself but if he had, the bullet would have gone through him which it did not.
  • The day he shot himself, he sent out a letter to his brother sounding pleased and excited about a large order he placed for his paints a few days ago.

And to me that doesn’t seem like a man who planned to kill himself.

So, who killed him?

Wheatfield with Crows (1890). A painting by Vincent Van Gogh that represents the wheat fields under stormy skies to express 'sadness, extreme loneliness'. 
This painting is said to his last painting.
Wheatfield with Crows (1890); Image:

Interestingly, the person suspected of killing Vincent is Rene Secretan.

The cocky teenage boy, who came from a wealthy family, was known to go around in full cowboy attire with a real pistol.

As per the testimonies and documents, Secretan and his buddies often bullied Vincent.

Despite these arguments, Vincent’s doctor, Dr. Gachet, and his brother, Theo van Gogh, were convinced that he tried to kill himself, along with the officer who questioned him.

A misunderstood genius with a talent that is unmatched by any and a gentle nature who covered up the iniquitous act as suicide in a final act of kindness.

“You want to know so much about his death, but what do you know of his life?”

Loving Vincent (Marguerite Gachet)

Read Also: Famous Works of Vincent Van Gogh

5. Who is Banksy? – The Man in Shadows

Banksy, a mysterious artist from England.
This graffiti depicts a mouse  who says "I'm out of bed and dressed - what more do you want?
I’m Out Of Bed Rat – Los Angeles/New York/Italy; Image:

“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish… but that’s only if it’s done properly.”


“Who is Banksy?” It’s a question that has plagued the minds of artists and art lovers alike.

creation of adam reproduction

He is not only among the most important painting mysteries, but also a sensation around the world for challenging the art market and its limits with his art. 

The famous but anonymous graffiti artist who rose to fame in the early 1990s made his mark in England and eventually around the world.   

The anonymous artist is known for his political and social artworks that bared a sense of humor.

Banksy intrigued the audience not just with his art, but also with the mystery around him.

Today, this mysterious artist, or artists as some believe it is a collective; is regarded as one of the most famous and scandalous contemporary artists to date, who ironically is still unidentifiable.

People have an unbounded need to define Banksy or perhaps the need to identify with him.

His refusal to unveil himself is thought to have begun as a way of averting vandalism charges. 

There are various speculations and theories about his identity, but none are conclusive. 

We may not know who he is, but we know his cause and the meaning behind the art.  
And that should be enough.

6. The Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo (1508 and 1512)


Many know Michelangelo as a master painter, sculptor, and architect but only a few know that he was also a skilled anatomist.

A skill that has helped him create one of the most beautifully concealed painting mysteries that researchers today continue to discover. 

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni – better known by his first name; is undoubtedly the most influential figure in western art.

The Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Julius II, who wanted a painting that represents nine stories from the book of Genesis.

But before we dwell on the secrets of the Sistine Chapel, let’s learn from where this mystery in art began.

This master painter of the Renaissance era started dissecting corpses from the church graveyard to study the human antonymy at the age of 17.

A fact that remained a secret for a long time and was kept concealed by destroying almost all of his anatomical sketches and notes.

Michelangelo had carefully veiled accurate images of certain body parts onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that has been revealed by researchers after 500 years.

So, where has he hidden these infamous anatomical sketches?


The creation of Adam: A mysterious painting on the central panel on the ceiling hid the perfect anatomical diagram of the human brain in cross-section.

He surrounded God with a shrouded human brain to represent the idea that God was bestowing Adam not only with life but also with human knowledge.

This want wasn’t the only panel he hid anatomical illustrations, in The Separation of Light from Darkness.

Researchers have found an accurate representation of the human spinal cord and brain stem, leading up to the center of God’s chest and forming his throat.

Many theorists also believe that Michelangelo felt compelled to hide anatomical sketches in his works as an attempt of a covert attack on the church’s disapproval of science.

Michelangelo has been one of the most well-documented artists from the 1500s, making it possible for researchers to identify the hidden meanings in his paintings.

“Ancora imparo”
Meaning: “I am still learning”

Michelangelo (“Ancora imparo” were his last words).

7. Salvator Mundi – The Saga Continues…


This painting of Jesus is widely attributed to the Italian master Leonardo Da Vinci.

This rare find was sold at Christie’s (2017) for 450 million Dollars only to disappear from the eyes of the public.

The buyer of the most expensive painting has been identified as the crown prince of Saudi, Mohammad bin Salman.

Salvator Mundi, a Latin expression for “savior of the world” was lost to history for more than 200 hundred years which dates to around the 1500s.

This mysterious painting was discovered badly damaged and was sold and resold as the works of Leonardo’s acolyte.

It was for many years thought to be a copy of a long-lost original DaVinci piece.

This mysterious artwork was found in terrible condition and required an extensive amount of restoration.

Salvator Mundi went under an extensive amount of restoration, to the point that experts question that “if it had once been Leonardo’s, is it still?”


Scholars believe that there are parts of this work that are just too virtuoso to be attributed to anyone but DaVinci.

However, many have also disagreed with its attribution to DaVinci, as there is still a great deal of work done by his apprentices.

This painting mystery has had two documentaries made on it and is still considered a famous unsolved mystery.

(Also Read: Famous Paintings by Leonardo da Vinci)

“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Salvator Mundi is really one of a kind, isn’t it?

girl with pearl earring replica

Well, all of Leonardo’s paintings are! So why not get one for yourself too!

And no we don’t mean millions! Just check out our Da Vinci replica painting gallery to know more.


These were some of the best-kept painting secrets from mysterious artists to their art.

Some solved, some still a mystery. These painting mysteries have mystified the art world for a very long time.

But these aren’t the only mysterious paintings in history out there —
Who carried out the biggest art heist to date? Who is Madame X and why was the painting a controversy in 19th century Paris? Is there another last supper and if so, by whom? What is the world’s most mysterious painting hiding?

Also, you can even read more about some controversial artworks in a blog post here.

Art is more than the mysteries it holds; it is the emotion that evokes in its viewers.

The mysteries in the art will only keep its viewers intrigued till it’s a secret, but it is the emotion in it that makes people want to see it over and over again.

People have used paintings to convey their emotions for centuries, and now you can too.

With PortraitFlip you can paint your own story and cherish the loving memory with a bitter-sweet feeling.

Get a portrait made from your favorite photo for you to enjoy the sentiment behind the art forever.

Dear Readers,

I hope you had fun reading these painting mysteries.

Art has always come with its own set of secrets that are often lost in the time they were created and vanished with their creators.

Leaving us with our own sets of theories and maybe that is why we may never know for sure if these speculations are absolute truth or not.

Let us know the interesting details about your favorite art mystery in the comments below.

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