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7 Unsolved Mysteries of the Art World

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7 Unsolved Mysteries of the Art World

The art world is rife with unsolved mysteries. That's because so much of it is subjective, open to interpretation and has a wide variety of perspectives. It's impossible to definitively answer some of these questions, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy thinking about them. From mysteries of authorship to strange and unexpected phenomena, here are seven of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the art world.


1. The pigment in Vermeer’s paintings

Johannes Vermeer's paintings are famous for their incredible hues and colours, but art historians and scientists have often wondered where he got his colours from. Early investigations revealed that some of the pigments he used were quite rare and uncommon for the time, which led many to speculate that Vermeer had access to paint stores belonging to the wealthy collectors who owned his works.

However, no direct evidence of such activity has yet been found. Scientists have attempted to replicate the colours found in Vermeer’s paintings in the lab, but have so far been unsuccessful. The source of Vermeer’s colours may never be known.


2. A sculpture with no artist

The Eve of Balzac is a sculpture of a woman with her head tilted, hair cascading down her back, and one arm outstretched in a floating gesture. Found in a French château in the late nineteenth century, it's often considered one of the finest examples of early Romanticism. Surprisingly, the artist who made it has never been identified—at least not definitively.

Several theories have been proposed, from the possibility that the sculpture was inspired by a painting by Antoine Jean Gros to the suggestion that the artist worked in a pair with a man named Guérin. No matter what—the sculptor of Eve of Balzac remains a mysterious figure.


3. The Theft of Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee has been the subject of a decades-long mystery. In 1990, the painting was stolen from one of Boston’s most renowned museums, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Despite an FBI investigation and a multimillion-dollar reward offered for any information, the painting has yet to be found.

It’s unclear who took it—or where the thieves hid it—but the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum personnel remain certain that one day, the painting will be recovered.


4. Portrait of a Young Man by Raphael

Up until recently, art historians have been uncertain about whether or not the famous painting Portrait of a Young Man is an authentic Raphael. Many art experts thought that the painting was a copy made by one of Raphael’s students—or even a forgery created after his death.

This was due to the fact that the painting does not appear in any of Raphael’s known sketchbooks or written records, unlike other paintings in the artist's well-documented oeuvre.

Thanks to recent developments in the field of infrared reflectography and recent scientific investigations, experts now believe that the painting could indeed be a genuine Raphael. The masterpiece currently resides in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and continues to be admired by art lovers around the world.

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5. Who really designed the Taj Mahal?

The Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world and is admired for its incredible white marble structure and intricate Mughal architecture.

But its precise origins still remain an unsolved mystery. Historically, the Taj Mahal is attributed to Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who is said to have commissioned it as a tribute to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal after her death.

However, there have been some claims by certain historians that suggest the original design of the complex is actually more complex than just a single man’s creation—with certain regional influences as well as contributions from artists from all over the Indian subcontinent.


6. The Apse Mosaic of the Hagia Sophia

The Apse Mosaic at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is one of the most intricate works of art in the world. However, the general consensus is that it has not been possible to accurately name the artist responsible for the masterpiece.

The oldest mosaics in the Hagia Sophia date back to around 500 AD, but unfortunately, much of the artwork was destroyed in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople.

Since then, the mosaics have been restored, but it’s still impossible to determine who was responsible for the original. To this day, the artist behind these incredible works of art remains unidentified.


7. The Swann Diamond

One of the most mesmerizing unsolved mysteries of art history is the mysterious disappearance of the Swann Diamond in the late 1700s.

The Swann Diamond was an extraordinary 232-carat diamond, once the pride and joy of the aristocrat and gem collector, the Earl of Swann. In 1786, the Earl of Swann visited Dresden, Germany to exhibit the diamond, yet no one has seen it since.

How the earl lost the diamond is still unknown, and although there are many theories, the whereabouts of the diamond remain a mystery.


In conclusion, The mysteries of the art world have captivated creative minds for centuries. From the mysterious disappearance of the Swann diamond to the Theft of Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, the art world and its unsolved mysteries remain an extremely fascinating topic of discussion.

Hopefully, as we explore and learn more about the wonderful history of art, we will eventually uncover the answers to some of these peculiar unsolved mysteries.

© 2023 Edmond Dantes

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