Even Apple's CEO is baffled by the 'iPhones' in these paintings

Paintings appearing to contain iPhones
(Image credit: Future)

It can be hard to remember a time before smartphones – and in particular the model that started it all. Apple's iPhone, which has probably replaced your computer, music player, calculator and approximately a billion other devices, first launched in 2007. Or is that 1860? Or is it even 1670?

Believe it or not, so-called 'iPhones' have been spotted in more than one classic painting over the last few years, and it turns out even Tim Cook has been baffled by one of them. And while we're obviously not looking at a smartphone, it's fun to imagine, right? (Check out the best iPhone 14 deals if you want to look as contemporary as the subjects of these paintings.)

"The Expected One" painting

Let's hope she doesn't leave him on Read (Image credit: Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller)

First up is “The Expected One" by Austrian painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, which is still driving social media users wild with its hilarious illusion. The lady in 162 year-old painting is displaying all the hallmarks of a modern day smartphone user: both hands clutching the device, presumably messaging a suitor, eyes down, oblivious to the beautiful landscape around her – and to the slightly creepy guy brandishing a flower in the foreground.  There even appears to be a faint glow emanating from the 'screen' – this must be an OLED model.

A photo of the iPhone 14 Pro

Perhaps she's browsing Creative Bloq? (Image credit: Basil Kronfli)

But of course, she isn't holding a prehistoric iPhone. According to Vice, the painting was spotted at Munich's Neue Pinakothek museum earlier this year. "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,” he said.

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So what's she holding? A prayer book, of course. “The girl in this Waldmüller painting is not playing with her new iPhone X, but is off to church holding a little prayer book in her hands,” Gerald Weinpolter, CEO of the art agency austrian-paintings.at, told Vice.

Man Handing a Letter to a Woman in the Entrance Hall

(Image credit: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)

And going even further back is 1670's 'Man holding a letter to a woman in entrance hall' by Dutch painter Pieter de Hooch (above). While it's pretty clear from the title that the subject is holding, you know, a letter, social media users are still insisting that it is in fact an iPhone. According to LadBible, Apple CEO Tim Cook even passed comment on this example back in 2016 after a visit to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. "You know, I thought I knew [when the iPhone was invented] until last night. In one of the paintings I was so shocked. There was an iPhone in one of the paintings.”

Still, these aren't the first examples we've seen iPhones pop up in unusual places. A few month back, the internet went wild when a supposedly unreleased model appeared in an Apple TV series – but just like the lady looking at Tinder her prayer book, all was not quite as it seemed there either.

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Daniel Piper
Senior News Editor

Daniel Piper is Creative Bloq’s Senior News Editor. As the brand’s Apple authority, he covers all things Mac, iPhone, iPad and the rest. He also reports on the worlds of design, branding and tech. Daniel joined Future in 2020 (an eventful year, to say the least) after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more. Outside of Future, Daniel is a global poetry slam champion and has performed at festivals including Latitude, Bestival and more. He is the author of Arbitrary and Unnecessary: The Selected Works of Daniel Piper (Selected by Daniel Piper).