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Mistakes in Art, Architecture and the Sciences

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Architecture, the ugliest buildings in the world




We are used to see beautiful masterpieces of art and we think those results are easy. We never think of mistakes in art and yet they are so important!

Often, I think, we overlook the fact that even for the same masters, the masterpieces are only few of their paintings and that many more are the forgotten or destroyed work that we don't see.

When you hear an old painter speaking of his first paintings, you can sometimes hear him saying how terrible those work were. The perfect painting is always the next one.

When you see mistakes even in the masters, then you realize that painting and drawing are never easy and the best that you can do is just try your best and get over it. With time, frustration will get perhaps less and maybe one day you will make even a masterpiece!

"The old masters DID make mistakes but their power in composition and psychological drama over-rode many errors."[link]

But all honest painters will tell you that there is always a moment in a painting where they would like to abandon it because it doesn't express their initial idea.

So here is a selection of mistakes in art to refocus on reality and get our feet grounded on earth rather than myths and daydreaming.

In fact, in my opinion. one of the best thing I can do to better understand art is to look at bad art. Because by looking at a bad painting now and then then I will realize why the good ones are such! Mistakes in art are the best way to learn how to draw and paint.



"Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter, and he was angry at Pope Julius II for commissioning him to design and build the Pope's tomb in 1507, only to abandon it in favor of the Sistine Chapel project after Michelangelo had bought all the marble. He was unpracticed with the technique of fresco, having never worked in it before, and he had returned home to Florence to avoid the Pope's entreaties to accept this commission. Fresco is a technically difficult process, in which the artist applies a layer of wet, plaster-like material (intonaco) over a smooth base, then brushes pigment over it while it is wet, binding the pigment to the surface and preserving it forever. Any imbalance in the ingredients can be disastrous. When the inexperienced Michelangelo finally accepted the commission and began work on the Sistine Chapel, his first panel was ruined by the build-up of salts and efflorescence on the surface of the painting, and when he worked with a too-wet surface, he soon found mold and mildew discoloring his fresco. Such mistakes cannot simply be corrected or painted over. Michelangelo had to chip away the entire fresco in order to correct his mistakes on the tumultuous "Noah and the Flood," a project which had taken him six weeks."


mistakes in art Michelangelo sistine chapel musculous women
This is one of the sybil in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. Why did Michelangelo paint women in the Sistine chapel so musculous and man-like? The boy in the top left background is not credible either. But probably, looking at these frescos from the floor of the church you won't see these details...

Libian sybil, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel. Beautiful , but again, poor "feminine" rendering in the body. Would Michelangelo correct it? Probably not being so aware of his talent.

Erythrean Sybil, Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo . It's a lady, not a man.




Piero della Francesca, Resurrection, 1463-1465, Sansepolcro, Tuscany
Piero della Francesca, Resurrection, 1463-65.

This is the "most beautiful painting in the world" according to Aldous Huxley. It's a fresco inside the San Sepolcro's City Museum. A masterpiece, Christ's eyes and posture are superbly rendered. Yet, do you spot the mistake? (probably an intentional one ).

The two soldiers in the middle, the brown clothed on the left hand-side and the one with the red shield on the right hand-side have no legs! A mistake? or an intentional illusion?


There is a lovely booklet of a painter and art-teacher where you get the rare opportunity to see a professional admitting of his "mistakes" (artistically speaking) and showing the corrections. For instance, he painted a beautiful white water lily over green leaves and he realized that something was missing... the adding of a little bit of violet in the shades.

Another book full of deliberate educational "mistakes" is this one . Again, the way to correct them is very revealing and enriching. For instance, how to draw a brick- wall, or flowers or a landscape. Very clearly exposed.


Van Eyck - Giovanni Arnolfini and wife, 1434

van eyck painting-arnolfini-marriageJan van Eyck, Arnolfini wedding, 1434.
This famous painting has been studied in all ways (including the suggestion of the use of mirrors and lenses to draw the perspective and the sophisticated chandelier) . There isn't any evident mistake really, however it's interesting to note how Van Eyck changed his mind on the position of the hand (look below). So evidently, he realized and corrected was he thought it was a own mistake as it is natural to happen to everybody...But at least we can touch a "mistake" in art history. Thanks to the infra-red photography.


Detail of the hand. Move the mouse over the picture, please..

van eyck painting arnolfini marriage 1434Infrared photography.

The use of a camera-oscura or photograph is clearly visible in this Bouguereau painting..

Bougureau painting

The wave, 1895, with a clearly visible sign that he used the camera-obscura trick to copy the human figure who was laying on a table (move the mouse over the picture) . But we are in 1895 and he was 70 years old, We don't know how much he used this expedient. An akward mistake, and I wonder if he noticed it or not...


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