Each year 11 million people trek to the Louvre to gawk at the Mona Lisa. Many visitors clutch guide books in hand describing the painting. For some, it’s the experience of a lifetime, one they’ll talk about with friends and family for decades.
Yet some modern researchers say that the vast majority of people will never recognize the hidden messages in this painting. That’s because those hidden messages are subliminal.
Buried below the threshold of conscious awareness, Da Vinci used techniques people never notice. Not only don’t people know what they’re seeing, they would be shocked to find out.
A surprisingly large number of famous paintings fall into the same category. That is, they employ subliminal techniques to enhance the effectiveness of the work or to encode messages within portraits and landscapes. No book, however, has ever attempted to provide an overview of the technical sophistication and arcane methods that artists worldwide have used to conceal secret meaning in their work. Every Picture Hides a Story is the first book to expose the subliminal content in the world’s greatest paintings. Titillating, subversive, and building on the groundbreaking work of pioneers of art criticism, this book will enable readers to view art masterpieces with greater understanding. And their enjoyment of these works will be exponentially enhanced.
This full-color book contains 86 images of the paintings and their details.
William Cane is the author of more than a dozen books, among them such contemporary classics as The Art of Kissing, Fiction Writing Master Class, and Clubhouse Confidential. He has had a distinguished career as a professor of English at CUNY and Boston College, where he helped a generation of students discover the hidden content in works of literature and art. A former Massachusetts trial attorney, he is a highly sought-after speaker on the college lecture circuit. He has appeared on almost every major television talk show, including Today, The View, and CBS This Morning. A native of New York City, he lives in Westchester County.
Anna Gabrielle earned a certificate in world art history from the Smithsonian Associates in Washington, DC. She also holds a master’s in English, with her primary area of research focusing on the hidden symbolism in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. A former commercial pilot for a major airline, she has studied paintings in museums on six continents. She lives in New York City.
1. Leonardo da Vinci
4. Hans Holbein
7. Artemisia Gentileschi
8. Diego Velázquez
9. Johannes Vermeer
10. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
11. William Bouguereau
12. John Everett Millais
13. Édouard Manet
14. Edgar Degas
15. Berthe Morisot
16. Mary Cassatt
17. Thomas Eakins
18. John William Waterhouse
19. Vincent van Gogh
20. John Singer Sargent
21. John William Godward
22. Gustav Klimt
The hidden messages embedded in acclaimed paintings are exposed in this effective examination of the work of 22 artists. Drawing on Wilson Bryan Key’s Subliminal Seduction, a 1973 book about advertising techniques, Cane and art historian Gabrielle focus on the subliminal—that which ‘lies below the threshold of conscious awareness’—in their analysis of paintings such as Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring; the authors write that the girl’s teardrop-shaped earring is 'a symbol of chastity' that ‘conveys a message about the girl’s interior life.' On Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, the authors conclude that “the couple pressed together forms an erotic shape that represents sexuality.’ The breezy narrative features the authors’ humorous asides (in praise of John William Godward’s use of perspective: ‘Put that in your pipe, Picasso, and smoke it!’) and vivid descriptions of each painting (on John Singer Sargent’s Madame X: ‘Those two oval-shaped loops on top of the bodice of Madame’s black velvet evening dress rise up to cover her chest like Mickey Mouse ears’). This accessible study of the messages hidden in plain sight will challenge readers to rethink familiar works of art.
Cane and Gabrielle look at the work of some 22 artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, Artemisia Gentileschi, Édouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Vincent van Gogh, and Gustav Klimt, and unpack the symbols, messages, and secret meanings found in some of the most beloved paintings in the history of Western art. Using the work of subliminal-messaging expert Wilson Bryan Key and others, they challenge conventional art analysis and criticism in carefully crafted and perceptive arguments. Their discussions of the individual artists provide new insights along with back stories set within illuminating historical contexts, as in the chapter on Edgar Degas, in which the ethereal world of the ballet stage is contrasted with the sordid life backstage. Each analysis of the decoded paintings is accompanied by a crisp, full-color reproduction of the work, with details in close-up. This feast for the eyes and delight for the mind will appeal to studious and casual art lovers alike.
One does not have to accept every single one of the authors’ daring new ideas to recognise that they have looked at the works of art they discuss with passionate intensity, and – crucially – convey their inspiring enthusiasm with rare mastery.
It’s not so long ago that a doctrine known as 'Formalism' maintained that paintings could be reduced to arrangements of shape, color and formal arrangement, without bothering to consider other messages they might convey. Every Picture Hides a Story is a refreshing departure from this approach. Not only do paintings tell stories, this book demonstrates, but as is the way with good stories, they delve down into mysterious hidden secrets. Whether considering the gender-bending aspects of da Vinci's Mona Lisa or the anamorphic skull and inconsistent shadows of Holbein’s The Ambassadors, this provocative book makes a good case that the things that are most interesting about paintings are the stories that lurk below the surface, just on the fringe of conscious awareness. In other words their secrets—often naughty secrets. After reading this book, you’ll never look at paintings the same way again. It’s not unlike getting a new set of eyes—ones which unlike the former pair are equipped with X-ray vision.
Packed with intriguing insights, the kind that come from both close looking and careful research of the paintings’ backstories. Beyond being entertaining, this book is a useful contribution to our understanding of these masterworks.
A breath of fresh air in the analysis of classic art! I'm delighted to recommend Every Picture Hides a Story, which focuses on my favorite artists and is illustrated with prime examples of their paintings. In a breezy informal manner these up-and-coming New York Times bestselling authors examine 23 brilliantly chosen painters from the 16th to 20th century. Starting with the great luminaries Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, and ending with the lesser-known Godward, Klimt, and Alma-Tadema, their book is a feast for the eyes—and mind!—a veritable banquet of aesthetic tastes with surprising revelations on every page.
10/29/22, Wizdom Radio: William Cane was interviewed about the book.