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When tourist Fiona Foskett saw what looked like modern footwear in a centuries-old painting during a recent visit to London’s National Gallery, she laughed it off.
Portrait of Frederick Sluysken, by the 17th-century Dutch master Ferdinand Bol, depicts the son of a wine merchant holding a goblet.
“I said to my daughter, ‘Hold on, is he wearing a pair of Nike trainers?’” she told the Sun. “Or,” she joked, “is he actually a time traveller?”
It’s not hard to see why she might think so. His black footwear is adorned, in white, with what looks very much like the brand’s iconic “swoosh” design.
The museum professed to be delighted as the story was picked up by news outlets from Footwear News to the Daily Mail. In fact they were well ahead of Ms. Foskett, tweeting an image of the painting as far back as August, asking if anyone could see a “modern” detail. (Some skeptics replied that it’s just a bit of sock showing from under a bow. One even asked the museum to get off drugs.)
This wasn’t the first time observers have spotted seemingly modern objects or people, in artworks dating as far back as before the birth of Christ. Maybe Foskett was on to something.
Each time someone spots one of these instances, the Internet goes crazy and everybody has a laugh. But perhaps the evidence that time travel actually exists is hiding in plain sight, in museum collections around the world.
In addition to the 17th-century Nikes, here are six more examples of the chronologically displaced, in works from the ancient to disturbingly modern, that were perhaps accidentally recorded for prosperity—at least until the time police show up.
Grave Naiskos of an Enthroned Woman with an Attendant (100 B.C.)
In this funerary relief, a little girl looks for all the world to be holding a laptop up to the deceased, represented on a throne to signal her status.
Even the owner of the artwork, the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, calls the object a container, but tellingly points out on its website that it “appears too shallow to hold anything substantial.” In an explanation that would convince absolutely no one outside of an art history classroom, the museum compares it to similar objects in other artworks from which women pull ribbons or jewelry, concluding that it’s a jewelry box.
But perhaps the truth is that Iktinos and Kallikrates designed the Parthenon using software like AutoCAD on their MacBook.
Turkic Seamstress Mummy (ca. 900 AD)
This Turkic seamstress, whose remains were uncovered by herders in Mongolia in 2017 and restored by the Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia, wore some fashion-forward gear.
The stripes are strikingly like those on Adidas footwear, even though the German company was founded by Adi Dassler only centuries later, in 1949—according to the official account, anyway.
But seeing as Adidas put a computer in a shoe as early as 1984, the company was definitely ahead of its time. Could it have been… hundreds of years ahead of its time?
First Nike, and now Adidas too? The clues just keep stacking up.
Ventura Salimbeni, Glorification of the Eucharist (late 16th century)
Ventura Salimbeni’s painting in the Church of St. Peter in Montalcino, in Siena, Italy, isn’t even subtle about its anachronistic technology. Those who have a fancy art history degree from Vassar or Williams might be convinced that large spherical object is “the Creation Globe,” and the protrusions held by Jesus and the Heavenly Father are wands symbolizing their power.
But the device bears an eerie similarity to another celestial instrument.
One look at this replica of the first artificial satellite placed in outer space, launched by the Soviets in 1957, makes it clear why this artwork is popularly referred to as “the Sputnik of Montalcino.” It’s even the right size, almost two feet in diameter, and nice and shiny. Perhaps the Soviet satellite took an unscheduled detour during its 98-minute circuit of the Earth to make a stop in the late 16th century. Or perhaps, as some say, the object held by God and His Son is just a U.F.O. We want to believe.
Pieter de Hooch, Man Handing a Letter to a Woman in the Entrance Hall of a House (1670)
Pieter de Hooch’s Man Handing a Letter to a Woman in the Entrance Hall of a House held in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has such an innocuous, everyday title that it would easily through any casual observer off the trail to time travel evidence.
But take a closer look at the letter in the man’s hand and try to make sense of how this 17th-century courier had an iPhone hundreds of years before anyone else. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook, who you might think would be happy to spread the news about technological advances, has joked about this one, saying at a press conference, “I always thought I knew when the iPhone was invented, but now I’m not so sure anymore.”
Perhaps the messenger was using Waze to find the quickest route for his delivery. And he’s not the only one with his eyes glued to the screen…
Ferdinand George Waldmüller, The Expected One (1850 or 1860)
Ferdinand George Waldmüller’s The Expected One is a classic genre painting from late in the Austrian painter’s career, showing an amorous young man in his Sunday clothes, waiting with a flower for the object of his affections, who has yet to see him. According to the experts at the Neue Pinakothek, in Munich, where the painting hangs, that’s because she’s engrossed in a hymnal. Or is it really because her attention is fixed on an item in her hands that looks suspiciously like a mobile phone.
What else are these museums hiding in their vaults?
Umberto Romano, Mr. Pynchon and the Settling of Springfield (1937)
Our final example is perhaps the most complicated and sinister.
Italian artist Umberto Romano’s painting Mr. Pynchon and the Settling of Springfield shows a pre-Revolutionary War encounter in the 1630s between English colonists and two New England tribes, the Pocumtuc and the Nipmuc.
But what is the Native American figure in the scene holding in his hand if not an iPhone, a piece of technology ostensibly introduced only in 2007? (He might even be reading a text from the young woman from Waldmüller’s painting above, suggesting that the young man with the flower is fated to be disappointed.)
Writing for Vice, Brian Anderson went super-deep on this one, pointing out that the titular William Pynchon depicted in this painting is the ancestor of conspiracy-minded novelist Thomas Pynchon, who was born—get ready—the same year the painting was finished. A historian told Anderson that the object in question is likely a mirror, which was a symbol of wealth and prestige for Native Americans, and which William Pynchon may have brought to charm the Indigenous people.
Do you know what else has a mirrored screen? That’s right. An iPhone, brought by a time traveler.
The facts are all there, if you’re brave enough to see them.
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