Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hidden Messages And The Great Cover Reveal Challenge

The National Portrait Gallery in London is currently hosting the exhibit Elizabeth I and Her People. Not so coincidentally, one of the included paintings recently gave up a little secret concerning the queen -- nearly five hundred years after it was first commissioned.

Conservators made a small but notable discovery while doing some needed restoration on the portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. There has always been a small crescent moon located in the upper left hand corner of the painting. But below that, found beneath a thin layer of centuries old paint, there also appears to be two rows of blue waves that had previously been covered up.

This little vignette was apparently a secret code of devotion between Raleigh and Elizabeth...well, except everyone knew what it meant. According to The History Blog (which, if you claim to be any sort of fan of history, you really should check out), the moon represents Elizabeth and the waves represent Raleigh (take the "L" out of Walter and you get water):

"It's just a few wavy lines of dark blue underneath the crescent moon, but they symbolize Raleigh's devotion to Queen Elizabeth who is represented by the moon. Just as the moon controls the tides, the Queen controls her humble servant who is naturally content to be swayed by her irresistible influence."

There were poems and courtly gestures exchanged, tracts of land and titles given, but, of course, Raleigh later fell out of favor with Elizabeth when he secretly married one of her ladies-in-waiting without her consent. It was probably while he was locked up in the Tower of London, thinking about how he'd pissed off Elizabeth, that someone felt the need to smudge out his lying, moon-resisting ocean waves from the portrait. Read here for more information on the rest of the symbology in the painting.

Unsurprisingly, there are other instances of hidden messages in famous paintings. Interpretations of the findings are open for debate, but it's interesting, nonetheless, to take a look and form an opinion.

For instance, the highly scrutinized Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci hasn't finished mesmerizing us with her eyes. In 2010, with the help of a digital microscope, the president of Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage discovered letters contained within those mysterious irises -- the letters "LV" in one and possibly "CE" in the other. Another secret code of devotion inserted by an artist? Maybe. Read here for more.

And another genius artist of the Renaissance left us with a bit of a mystery to ponder too. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco is supposedly riddled with seditious images. One of the more intriguing examples concerns the "Creation of Adam." In a theory first put forth by Dr. Frank Meshberger in 1990, God can be seen floating within a human brain. 

Compare it to this diagram overlay:

Remarkable, right? It's interesting because Michelangelo was known to sit in on the dissection of cadavers as a young man (something banned by the Church at the time) and would have had a thorough understanding of human anatomy, no doubt supported by some amazing sketches. Yet no one seemed to notice this incredible similarity for nearly five hundred years.

Of course, all of this talk of messages in art was done to get you revved up for the Great Cover Reveal Challenge in honor of Lexa Cain's forthcoming novel, Soul Cutter, which will be available for purchase on December 6, 2013. To make this a little more fun than the typical cover reveal, Lexa is inviting people to find the hidden error in ten different versions of her cover, which have been dispersed throughout the Blogging Realm. Find all ten mistakes and you can win something fabulous. Go to Lexa's blog to find out more! Go. Now.

Lexa’s Cover Reveal Challenge

Can you find the error on this cover?
To win a prize, find the cover error on each of these 10 blogs:

For the correct cover, rules, and prize list, go to Lexa Cain’s blog

Congrats Lexa! Best of luck with Soul Cutter



  1. What a fascinating bit of trivia on Sir Walter. And Mona Lisa? Curious doings. Enjoyed the links, too!

    Congrats to Lexi! You have some sort of etching in the left corner and Al has a cursor, hmmmm

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  2. I totally see the brain - awesome. Thoroughly fascinating post. I do love to learn. Also, I found the error on Lexa's cover. :)

  3. The moon in the painting reminded me of this from Henry IV:

    ...being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and
    chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.

    And seems that doctor got brain on the brain. But it does seem right. You could even say God's reaching out through the third eye.

  4. I bet not many people knew what the inside of a brain looked like!
    Interesting about Sir Walter Raleigh. (Especially as I don't like too far from the town with his name.)
    And this will be fun trying to figure out the differences in the covers!

  5. Awesome post!
    And I found the mistake in Lexi's cover. ;)

  6. Sia - Yeah, the further reading you'll find on the links is fascinating stuff. More than I could include in a blog post today. :)

    Shah - How many times have we seen that image and NOT seen a brain. So crazy.

    Steve - Ooh, do it again. You know how I loves my Shakespeare. :)) And did you happen to find my own hidden message in this post? Hmmmm????

    Alex - I'm going to have to go back and double check some covers. Not sure I spotted the right thing.

    Melissa - Very clever cover reveal idea!!

  7. Old Bess was so naughty... and extremely ebil too..... No wonder she ruled for such a long time... ebil always yields slowly....

  8. That is so cool. Gives me an idea for my next book, or any story really = a secret code!

    Yeah, like anyone would care! LOL

    Found this one too Lexa!

  9. Well this one was more obvious than the others.
    L.G., thanks for visiting and I do hope to see you again on November 24th! Dragon Hugs!

  10. Ha! Yours IS the funniest one!

  11. Dezzy - She really was sort of vengeful. Not a person you'd want to cross. Not when she had that convenient Tower of London to lock you up in.

    Yolanda - Hey, it worked for Dan Brown. :D

    Al - I'm curious to see what all ten mistakes are. And of course I'll be at the dragon cave for that special day. :)

    Marcy - I know, right? Groucho the mummy.

  12. What a fun way to reveal a book cover and do a giveaway. Very unique.

    The Michelangelo painting is amazing. I never would have seen a brain in it. Hidden messages/meanings are so much fun!!

  13. Congrats, Lexa!
    Those 'hidden secrets' are interesting.

  14. Once you start thinking about the world in stenographic terms you find that there are secret messages everywhere.

  15. Elsie - I do enjoy a scavenger hunt. I haven't finished looking at them all yet, but some aren't so obvious.

    T.D. - There's a reason The Da Vinci Code did so well. People love mysteries. :)

    Laoch - Which is why I love Shakespeare. There's double meaning in almost everything he writes. It's fun to find stuff even if it wasn't intended. :P

  16. Re The Creation of Adam: Food for thought, Lu.

  17. The Michangelo painting. Now I will only ever see a brain.

    And I found the error on the cover! Such a genius cover reveal idea.

  18. I love learning things like this about classic art! That's so cool!

    (LOL found the error)

  19. Suze - Zombie brain food! Yes, lots of interpretations for that imagery, depending on your perspective. ;)

    MJ - I know! I'll never unsee it again. It will always be a floating brain now.

    Debra - Yeah, this clue was kind of funny. I've got about three more to find. :)

  20. I loved what you wrote about the secret messages. Those kinds of discoveries always thrill me. As to Lexa's cover, I got the clue. It tickled.

  21. Interesting stuff about secret messages in paintings. I can just imagine Raleigh in the Tower of London and the queen viciously eliminating the water code from the painting(s). Michelangelo remains one of the most fascinating painters to this day. I didn't know that about God lying in the human brain. However, I doubt this will be last discovery made in his artwork.

    Lexa... I found it!

  22. CLee - I find it fascinating that these mysteries endured for five hundred years! Amazing.

    Robin - Oh, she knew how to act like a woman scorned. And Michelangelo would be someone I would like to go back in time to meet. :))

    Kate - Lexa is sneaky!!!

  23. What a great post to go along with Lexa's reveal. I hadn't read about "the brain" before but now it seems so obvious! Love this kind of stuff.
    And I feel lame because I didn't know about The History Blog. Have to go check it out now.

  24. Fascinating, LG. Elizabeth seemed to have several favorites. I think it would be tough to be a royal favorite.

    Neat messages in the other paintings.

    Awesome reveal by Lexa :)

  25. Very interesting stuff. As for Lexa's cover, I'm no expert, but...oh, never mind, I shouldn't say here.

  26. Greetings, L..G.,

    The National Portrait Gallery is a place I have been to on numerous occasions. And what was uncovered in regards to Sir Walter Raleigh, quite cleverly led onto the mystery of the cover for Lexa. Very nicely done.

    A good weekend to you.


  27. Julie - Well, my friend Steve MC up there in the comments is the one who pointed out The History blog to me. It posts seven days a week, and is always full of interesting relevant historical information from around the world. Highly recommend it.

    Catherine - This one was easy, but some of them were really hard to figure out. Lexa is sneaky.

    Mary - Agreed. Her favorites seemed to end up with a room at her favorite hotel -- the Tower of London.

    Jeff - Parts of that book cover are like looking in a mirror, huh? :P

    Gary - Oh, I envy your geography. And nice to meet you!

  28. I didn't know about the brain thing.
    And that's a clever idea for a cover reveal!

    1. I didn't either, until I did the research for this post. Seeing Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel is a bucket list item for me. Well, and seeing the Mona Lisa too. Incredible works.

  29. Haha... loved the error on this cover... made me laugh out loud. Congrats, Lexa.

    How fascinating about finding the hidden messages in art...

  30. Ah, found the cover error :)

    I'll have to come back and click on the research links. I enjoyed the info LG.

    Have a good weekend.


  31. I'm completely fascinated by the hidden images. I've seen a lot about the Last Supper image, but these were all new to me and very surprising. God's in a brain?! Well, of course he is. ;)

    Thank you so much for helping with my reveal! It's been an awesome day!

  32. Very nice lesson and write up on symbols and hidden meanings. And what a clever segue into Lexa's cover! I'm a history buff and love the History Channel as well as website. Great site!

    M.L. Swift, Writer

  33. T.F. - He's just missing a cigar. :)

    Donna - Yeah, just Google Michelangelo's brain. You'll find all kinds of links. Amazing theories out there on other anatomy depictions in his art.

    Lexa - I saw one theory about there being musical notes in the Last Supper based on the position of different items? That one seemed like a stretch to me, but anything is possible. And congrats again! It was a great challenge. :))

    M.L. - Oh, you'd love the History Blog. Updates every day with something new. And nice to meet you!

  34. This one made me laugh, congrats Lexa, great cover reveal. (:

    Also great post on the paintings I didn't about the brain comparison. It's always interesting finding hidden message in art. (:

    1. That's the thing with geniuses. They're always hiding things from the rest of us. :P

  35. Fascinating stuff!! And honestly why wouldn't artists include secrets in their work? It just makes it that much more fun--especially when the artwork is going to someone else who'll never know it's there.

    Congrats to Lexa!

  36. Ah yes... and now we know the true da Vinci Code. I do believe I spotted something awry in Lexa's cover! I wear one myself, but it's not nearly as stunning.

  37. Leandra - Wishing her much success with this!

    PK - Makes you wonder how many secrets are out there floating around in the art world. Sounds like a really cool premise for a novel. Well, you know, different than The Da Vinci Code, which was actually a great page-turner.

    Milo - da Vinci and Michelangelo were both great at defying the Church and government through their art. If they'd been less good at it, they both would have had much shorter lives. :)

  38. Sorry, coming by late. The church was quite invasive in the days of the Renaissance and for hundreds of years. Man always finds a way to get around that. Secret messages abound, the Templars, the Masons, etc. We as humans love ridddles. . .(some of us do, I'm never good at those)

    Best of luck, Lexa - Love the variety in the covers - another great idea for a launch!

  39. Hi Luanna .. I love what they find hidden beneath layers of paint and watching programmes recording such findings ... it's sad we've lost so much, but I guess that is time and the way of the world as it always has been.

    So much to decipher ... the pyramids, ancient writings ... and art ... let alone sculpture or jewels ... or maps ... or Church paintings/frescoes ...

    Fascinating post - thanks .. as I'll try and get up to see this exhibition .. cheers Hilary

  40. DG - I find it so extraordinary that this communication of secrets is still going on five hundred years later. Fascinating stuff. :))

    Hilary - Oh, if you go to the exhibit you must report back, as I know you will. Lucky, lucky you. :))

    1. Yes - it was on my radar .. but now I've checked it closes early January .. so I need to get on with it .. Lucky me .. too true .. H

  41. Yowsa! I had no idea about these famous paintings and their hidden messages.

  42. Rad paitings, and I love the galleries in London:) It's neat that they have some secret meanings, although the brain thing with Michelangelo seems a bit fart fetched. I'll checkout the History blog too, thanks:)

  43. Pretty creepy about Michelangelo and the cadavers! Lots of fascinating stories behind these works of art. Congrats to Lexa! Sorry I didn't get here sooner Luanne.


  44. Michael - Those guys were such geniuses it took the rest of us 500 years to catch up to them. :P

    Mark - Oh, you'd like the History Blog. It's all over the place in terms of subject, but I love it all. And I think you better take a second look at that brain. I'll never unsee it again. :)

    Julie - He and da Vinci both studied anatomy that way I believe. And it was highly illegal. And who knows what else Michelangelo was up to. He apparently burned all his papers and sketches just before he died.

  45. You always have the best posts. Fascinating stuff. Weird about the brain in the picture.

    1. Thanks, Tonja. Glad you liked it. All that mystery surrounding art gets the imagination roiling, doesn't it? :D

  46. My kind of post, L.G. I was very relieved to actually see the correct version of Lexa's cover. Now you've uncovered some fascinating little secret histories. I believe Michelangelo was actually a grave robber so fascinated was he by human musculature. Compare his later sculptures to his earlier ones before his research was complete. Mona Lisa is full of mystery, many still uncovered I'm sure. But thank you! Loved it. :D

  47. Fascinating post. While I haven't heard of the others, I did hear about the Michelangelo one. I think sometimes people over analyze.

  48. Denise - Michelangelo's sculptures are so beautiful, but, wow, his thirst for knowledge went beyond the norm. He paid a price for his genius in the squalid way he lived. Fascinating life.

    Lynda - Mayhap they do. But I'll never unsee that brain again. It can have so many different meanings, too, depending on your POV. Genius.

    Beverly - I hope you got all ten clues. There was one I couldn't find. :(

  49. So cool! (And a little romantic if I do say so myself. :) Love the concept of leaving hidden messages in our art. Makes me want to try it with a book!

  50. Why isn't that romantic! Makes me want to create my own secret message for my husband. Instead he gets, "Hey, honey. How was your day?" :D Thanks for the post! Very informative.

  51. You always post on the coolest things. How do you do it? Now all I want to do is head for the Met in NYC (or the National Gallery!) and stare at paintings and try to find secret messages.

    I have heard that the Sistine Chapel is full of fascinating (and blasphemous) symbolism. It's beautifully ironic that all of that work is in the holiest of the holy places of the Church. I would have loved to ave known Michaelangelo!

  52. E.J. - I think it's a long and honored tradition by artists to leave coded messages in their work. Sneaky.

    Emily - I do love the imagery of the moon and tide. :))

    Liz - Ha! I am a Gemini. I have very wide interests, but my knowledge only runs about two inches deep on most things. :P

    And, yeah, I was watching part of a documentary on Michelangeo, sent by a friend after this post, that explored some more of his "secret messages" revealed through his sculpture. Interesting stuff.