Hidden in Pictures

Conspiracy theorists see coded communications everywhere. The pattern of a blinking streetlight, the folded page in a library book, the missing card in a deck, and the dis-ordered bottles on the alchemist’s neat shelf—are all great ways to start a mysterious story. If life is not full of “hidden messages” than ART certainly is! You can find subtle, mysterious, and secret messages in bedded in publicly displayed art. You just have to know how to look.

Art from many eras contain images that were “read” by the people of that time. There were references to familiar ancient gods, biblical stories, and symbols that were commonly understood—the way we see FREE Wifi logos in the windows of stores, traffic lights, and No Smoking images with a cigarette in a circle with a line through it.

When I was in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I became reacquainted with Franz Halls’ famous double portrait of a newlywed couple. I’ve seen that painting on every visit I’ve made to the magnificent central hall of the museum and many more times in books, but I’d never noticed the peacocks roaming down right in the composition. They are symbolic of fertility, and would be understood as a wish for the couple to have a healthy family.

In Northern Renaissance still life paintings, there are often flies or lemons in the composition. Flies reminded people of the presence of chaos and evil in the midst of a perfect, beautiful moment, while lemons suggested the sour or bitter in the mix of life. For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the symbols in Italian paintings with all sorts of fruits, vegetables, insects in borders around religious images or inserted into the scene of a Madonna and Child.

Still one of my favorites is, of course, how Magritte managed to add Poe to his painting, “Not to be Reproduced.” The image is of a man’s back as he looks in the mirror and the image in the mirror is also his back. On the mantel beneath the mirror is a book—also reflected in the mirror—it’s by Poe!

While I was wondering around the Rijksmuseum last week, I began to ponder a character for whom every image, every word, everything contains hidden messages. His life is all about unraveling these coded messages. I think it might be science fiction… Lots to think about.


(Sorry no picture today. The hotel WiFi is slow. Will be home soon with more pix in posts)


  1. Such a character who spends their live unraveling the hidden messages in all of life’s commonplace stuff would be great to explore. I’m copy editing a sci-fi piece now that really gets into computer coding and how the brain functions. So many possibilities with such topics.

    • Candy Korman

      I love starting a story with a character! This one will be tricky. The plot must support the eccentricity—or maybe make it REAL?

      Brains and computer coding! Editors do get to learn about all sorts of things.