When you look at the painting it immediately strikes you: A woman staring at a smartphone while walking, a scene not too unfamiliar with today’s way of life. However, despite the fact that many people would find that this scene shows what seems to be a smartphone, the truth is that this is ONLY evidence of how technology changes our interpretation of art.
And no, it is not time travel, and she’s not holding a smartphone, I mean, after all, reception in 1860 would have been a pain in the ass, right?
How many of us have walked along the street, firmly grasping our precious piece of technology while sending texts or watching YouTube videos?
The scene depicted in this 19th-century Waldmuller painting seems to show the exact same thing, but… smartphones didn’t exist in 1980, did they?
The truth is no, they did not, but as noted by retired Glasgow local government officer Peter Russell who spotted the scene at the Neue Pinakothek museum in Munich:
Just like her on the dating app in Walmüller’s Die Erwartete (c. 1850): pic.twitter.com/Lakl0vCkri
— Peter A. Russell2291 (@Planet_Pedro) October 23, 2017
“What strikes me most is how much a change in technology has changed the interpretation of the painting, and in a way, has leveraged its entire context. The big change is that in 1850 or 1860, every single viewer would have identified the item that the girl is absorbed in as a hymnal or prayer book. Today, no one could fail to see the resemblance to the scene of a teenage girl absorbed in social media on their smartphone.”
The painting is believed to have been created sometime between 1850—1890 by Austrian artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller.
It’s called ‘The Expected One’ and shows a woman walking down a rocky path towards a kneeling man, with a flower in his hand, ‘expecting’ the young woman.
The young lady is illustrated firmly grasping a small rectangular object—strikingly similar to a modern-day smartphone.
However, despite the fact that some may find a similarity between the object held by the young woman and a modern-day smartphone, the truth is that it isn’t a technological gadget but rather a hymnbook.
The painting is evidence that today’s society, which is engulfed by technological gadgets sees art in a different way than people 20, 30 or 50 years ago.
Had you shown this scene to someone 50 years ago, you would have never obtained an answer saying: “oh look that must be some sort of futuristic artifact…”, but rather; “…she’s holding a hymnbook or a bible…”
Technology changes people, and apparently, it also changes our interpretation of art.
This isn’t the first time we’ve gotten confused when looking at ancient paintings. Not long ago, we wrote about a painting depicting a scene from the 17th century, where a Native American man is portrayed holding in his hand a device that according to many is eerily similar to a modern-day Smartphone.
Speaking about the alleged smartphone in the painting in an interview with Motherboard, Dr. Margaret Bruchac from the University of Pennsylvania told said: “It does bear a rather uncanny resemblance, both in the way, it’s being held and the way it focuses his attention, to a smartphone.”
However, Dr. Bruchac explained how instead of being an actual smartphone, the object is more likely to have been an iron blade, saying that the painting was a ‘romanticized artistic genre’ which made it hard to tell.
Ivan is editor-in-chief at ancient-code.com, he also writes for Universe Explorers.
You may have seen him appear on the Discovery and History Channel.