War, natural disaster, incinerating a painting because it's haunted by Vigo the Carpathian--there are all sorts of regrettable, but perfectly legitimate, reasons valuable art has been lost to the world. But sometimes there is no good reason. Sometimes we just screw up. Sometimes we do something silly, something like this...
When you think of the last supper, you probably only have one image in mind: Jesus sitting calmly at the center of the table while everyone else clambers around as if they've all misplaced their contacts. That image right there is Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, perhaps his most well known masterpiece next to the Mona Lisa.
Apparently, "forgetting to give her eyebrows" was not considered a major blunder at the time...
So What Happened?
The painting is so well known, you might not be surprised to learn that it crossed paths with two of history's most famous figures. But, you probably didn't know that both figures went out of their way to treat it like it had been pooped up there by someone with a remarkably imprecise and explosive strain of diarrhea.
The first noted figure was Leonardo himself. See, frescoes are supposed to be painted on wet plaster or they start to peel. Unless you want your fresco to have the shelf life of a Banksy painting, the wet plaster is as important to the equation as the paint. But this wasn't any painter, he was Leonardo motherfucking da Vinci and if he wanted to paint on a dry surface, who's going to stop him? Unsurprisingly, the whole thing turned to a horrible peeling mess within his own lifetime.
By 1652, it was considered ruined and unrecognizable. This may explain why someone decided later to knock a hole right through the base of Jesus to make room for a door.
Just so we're clear how much of a mess this was, this is the 15th century Catholic Italy we're talking about. Jesus was sort of a big deal over there.
Then Napoleon, a great lover of art and anything Leonardo, came along and decided it was shit. When his troops were stationed in Italy, he decided to turn the whole room into a storage closet. Then, because he wasn't quite finished dragging his ass all over Leonardo's second greatest work, he decided to turn it into a prison.
By 1826, after a number of attempts to fix it, an attempt was made to move it to a safer location. Unfortunately, they commissioned a man who specialized in moving frescos to move The Last Supper. That'd be great if it was actually a fresco. His techniques ended up damaging the painting, and he quickly tried to glue the whole thing back together, which only added to the damage.
Clearly, The Last Supper. Or an out of focus photo of some laundry. We're not sure.
Monet was known to be one of the founders of the impressionist art movement and his lily paintings essentially kick-started a radical art community that was widely misunderstood in it's time. Of course now he is recognized as a genius, kind of like how generations from now the world may finally understand what Fred Durst was trying to tell us.
So What Happened?
Monet had cataracts. While nobody can say for sure if the condition was responsible for the blurred look that initially made his paintings so influential, we do know that as his condition worsened with age, his paintings became blurrier. And since cataracts affect your ability to perceive color, what began as paintings of green lilies...
...became lilies tinged slightly pink and brown and then, eventually, red lilies.
Eh, close enough for government work.
The art world assumed he was intentionally using the wrong colors and blurring images more than ever. If anything, this later work encouraged other impressionist painters to take more risks with colors and style. Everything Monet produced, including his red lilies, was considered invaluable, and would still be considered invaluable today... if Monet didn't go on his crazy lily destroying rampage.
His mighty beard hungered for fine art.
After Monet got corrective surgery on his eyes, a 1920s procedure that probably consisted of a rusty scalpel and a bottle of scotch, he actually started seeing things more clearly. When he saw that he'd been painting red lilies for all these years, even though they'd been partially responsible for his fame and critical acclaim, he decided to destroy them all. The only reason we know what some of these looked like is because friends and family saved some from Monet's wrath.
You don't have to appreciate his artwork to appreciate the insane amount of money LS Lowry's drawings, even his sketches, would get at an auction today. It's predicted today that even his most half-assed, coffee stained, possibly even suspiciously stained, sketches could fetch a tidy sum of one million pounds, which, by our own measurements, is like a shitload of American dollars.
Or $12, depending on if they turn it into one of those folk art calendars or not.
So What Happened?
He was giving them out as tips to his local milkman. The milkman, thinking they looked like garbage, immediately scrunched them up and threw them into the trash. Which is exactly how you should behave when someone is just trying to share their art with the world. Please, if this article isn't up to your standards, feel free to print this page off, spit on it, rub it into the mud and then burn it in a trashcan.
That'll teach you to art.
Ben Timperly, the milkman, only found out later how big a deal Lowry was. While sitting in a doctor's office, he noticed a drawing on the wall of the waiting room which looked surprisingly similar to that one he threw out so he could finish a minimum wage-paying job. We're guessing he destroyed that one as well.
According to Timperly: "I just thought my children could paint better than him." He then said Mt. Rushmore "looked like something my dog threw up" and dismissed the entire history of human achievement by saying, "Eh, I could do better."
What is this shit?
In ancient Greece, Rome and essentially all of Europe way up till the 1500s, public nudity was just a fact of life. A dirty, sexy fact of life. So if nudity was so great to these guys, why are so many of these statues missing their most valuable parts? Why are there fig leaves on their crotches, a fashion choice that defies both logic and physics?
So What Happened?
You can thank 16th century sensibilities and the Catholic Church. In ancient Rome, Greece, and even right up to the Renaissance, artists liked to show off their work to its full extent. After several centuries of just letting them flop on out there in the open for the whole world to see, a few popes launched the whole Dick Crusade, which is totally what it should have been called.
Dan Brown, for instance, claims the whole thing started in the 19th century when Pope Pius IX whacked off (figuratively speaking) a bunch of stone dicks so they would not corrupt the minds of the citizens. While we can't vouch for what Dan Brown calls "historical accuracy," nor can we vouch for what Pius was up to in his spare time, the whole dick thing started much, much, earlier.
In an effort to keep up with the Protestant Reformation's sense of piousness during the 1500s, the Catholic Church decided to ban any depiction of genitalia, breasts and buttocks (essentially, all the fun bits) in art. Pope Paul IV turned the church away from its more sinful, penis-filled past by adding marble and plaster fig leaves to groins of the statues within the Vatican, permanently damaging many statues.
You'd think a man dressed as the head of a penis would be a little more open.
Pope Innocent continued Paul's work in the 1600s, but for reasons unknown (we suspect it was his "thing"), he added metal fig leaves instead of marble leaves to the statues. Whatever the case, within a few generations of dick Popes, statues across Europe lost their manhood.
Of course, this doesn't explain why they're all missing their members. The Bacchus statue by Michelangelo may have been mutilated purely to make it look more antique. It seems that no matter where you look, history is rife with a strong hate towards anything penisy.