10 Paintings of the Past That Hide Startling Facts About the Life of Our Ancestors

By | September 5, 2019

Many people can paint a beautiful painting, but doing it in an elegant way and hiding a message in it or portraying some features from that time is something that only true masters of art can do. This is why art experts are like detectives, looking for evidence and spending hours deciphering paintings. This is how we learned that the first cave drawings were made by women, men used to wear makeup, and pasta was eaten with cinnamon and by hand.

We at Bright Side are really interested in the pieces of art that can tell the world a bit more about the lives of our ancestors.

10. The first cave drawings were made by women.

By researching the caves where ancient people lived, experts came to the conclusion that the first artists were women. This is not only because of the imprints of fingers and palms but also because of the style of drawing connected with hand proportions. Only about 1/4 of the drawings were made by men.

This discovery confirmed the fact that hunting was an important activity for women too. Men hunted down the animals and killed them and women picked up the catch and carried it back to the camp to share the meat there.

9. The artists of the Middle Ages could only draw animals well that they had seen with their own eyes.

It was believed that the strange appearance of some animals was the idea of the artists. But after the research of the bestiaries of the Middle Ages, experts realized that in some cases, the artists would base their paintings on the verbal descriptions of animals if they had no chance to see them with their own eyes. This is why it was easy to draw a hawk, but it wasn’t that simple to draw a crocodile that had never been seen in Europe. The situation was made even worse because people didn’t know much about the wildlife and this lack of knowledge often got mixed up and turned into myths.

For example, they used to believe that crocodiles only ate people, and then they regretted what they had done and cried — hence the term “crocodile tears.” The reptile’s excrements were considered to be extremely valuable. People used to put them on their faces in order to “return the youth to their skin.”

8. 500 years ago, outdoor games were the universal language of children across the world.

This painting shows almost 100 popular outdoor games of the 16th century. But the researchers’ attention is drawn by something else: the painting, that was drawn in 1560, points out that despite the differences in cultures and the distances between the countries, children around the world entertained themselves in very similar ways: dolls, toy guns, making soap bubbles, playing leapfrog, and many other games.

This supports the idea that games are the universal way of communication of children, despite their origin and culture.

7. Not long ago, every noble man in Russia wore makeup.

In the 18th century, makeup became a true art that even men were interested in. They were careful about the rouge they used, they moisturized their lips, and they put a lot of powder on their wigs. The excess was removed from the face with a special knife.

Not all the paint was made of lead: pearl paint was brought from Italy — it was more expensive. Cheaper alternatives were made from starch, chalk, and bismuth. Rouges were made from carmine, saffron, and cinnabar. Powder was made from flour and it made the hair look silver which, in turn, made the face look fresher. In order to restore the skin after using this makeup, they used special lotions.

6. Some dogs of the same breed looked different. And breeding started as something that was just for fun.

Pugs originated from dogs that were brought from China to Europe and probably the relatives of Pekingese dogs. In the 17th century, they were the favorite pets of noble ladies that usually had several dogs. This led to dog breeding, often with King Charles Spaniels. As a result, the paintings from the 17th-19th centuries show pugs with longer faces and paws.

But recent studies of the genome showed that their closest relatives are also Jack Russell Terriers and Border Terriers that, along with pugs, worked as hunting and guard dogs.

5. Pasta was the food of the nobles and it was eaten by hand from a huge plate.

Originally, this food was only served in the houses of wealthy people because the recipe for cooking it was not very simple. The dough was made of flour, goat’s milk, and egg yolks, it was pulled in sheets and cut into thin strips. The dried pasta was boiled in hot water, the water was removed, and the food was covered with ground cheese. They added cinnamon, some oil, and a bit of Provatura cheese that looked like mozzarella. After that, it was sprinkled with some pink water and put into the oven for 30 minutes.

In the 17th century, factories that produced pasta started to open and pasta became affordable for poor people: they ate it boiled with tomato sauce. But the tradition of eating it by hand didn’t go away: the pasta was soaked in sauce and then put into the mouth.

4. Leonardo da Vinci had crossed eyes which allowed him to switch between the 2D and 3D perception.

After studying the pieces of art where Leonardo da Vinci used his own face, neurobiologist Christopher Tyler came to the conclusion that the great artist had a special form of crossed eyes. Thanks to the disorder, he was able to switch between the 2D and 3D perception by tensing the eye muscles and that’s how he was able to draw such realistic paintings.

Usually, in order to achieve this effect, artists with normal vision would close one eye and then draw something with depth on a plain surface.

3. Ballet dancers didn’t wear underwear.

The shorter and lighter the skirts of dancers were, the more men came to see the shows. During the times when women didn’t wear any underwear, it was obvious why the opposite sex was so interested in ballet.

According to one of version, once, as a joke, ballet dancers were told to put on some short pantaloons. Unexpectedly, men loved it so much that after that, even regular women started to wear them.

2. Marriage could have been registered, even in the bedroom.

According to one versions, in the painting The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck showed the marriage ritual. In the 15th century, this ritual didn’t require a priest to be present, so people could get married just about anywhere. If these wealthy people were getting married, in order to confirm the prenuptial agreement, there had to be witnesses whose reflection we can see in the mirror.

Also, during the ceremony, the fiancé would raise his hand up and say the words of the vow, and then would take his bride’s hand with his other hand. Most likely, this is why the painting has so many deliberate details, like the dog that symbolizes fidelity, and the cherry tree that is seen through the window, which is a sign of fertility.

1. Naked women’s breasts were drawn separately out of decency.

According to a legend, 15-year-old Agatha, from a wealthy family, took a vow of celibacy and decided to dedicate her life to god. This is why the girl said no to the head of the city that wanted to marry her. He decided to get back at her, so she was harassed and she lost both of her breasts. After that, the Apostle Peter appeared in the jail where the girl was held and healed her wounds.

According to the traditions of iconography, Saint Agatha is drawn in clothes (as a symbol of her healing) but she holds her breasts on a plate. And on the day of Saint Agatha, people in Sicily make traditional desserts that look like woman’s breasts.

You can learn something new by looking into almost any museum in the world. What exhibit did you see that, for some reason, turned out to be the most memorable for you?

Preview photo credit Public Domain / Wikipedia

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