The Man With an iPhone: 1937 Painting Predicted the Future?

By Mr Robot

September 24, 2017

Do you see a smartphone in this painting?

People are wondering if the painter of this piece had some inside knowledge about the future. According to VICE:

But the multi-part, New Deal-era mural the man occupies, titled “Mr. Pynchon and the Settling of Springfield,” pre-dates the iPhone by seven decades. Completed in 1937 by the late Italian semi-abstract painter Umberto Romano, “Settling” is loosely based on actual events that occurred around a pre-Revolutionary War encounter between members of two prominent New England tribes, the Pocumtuc and Nipmuc, and English settlers at the village of Agawam in present-day Massachusetts in the 1630s, some 200 years before the advent of electricity.

If people want to investigate the possibility of this painter having inside knowledge about smartphone technology being developed, with a little critical thought and research one can see who he is: Umberto Romano.

Umberto Romano was a painter, sculptor, and teacher.

He was born in 1906 in Bracigliano, Italy. He and his family came to the United States when he was young, settling in Western Massachusetts. He attended various prestigious academies and had great success, eventually creating works that were featured in high places.

He honored the mother of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with a portrait, featured in the Roosevelt library at Hyde Park, N.Y. He also made a portrait of Gov. Foster Furcolo of Massachusetts, featured at the State House in Boston.

According to a 1982 New York Times article announcing his passing at the age of 77:

The artist headed the Wooster Art Museum School from 1934 to 1940 and then the Romano Summer School in East Gloucester, Mass., for 20 years. From 1968 to 1978, he taught at the National Academy of Design. Born in Bracigliano, near Salerno, Italy, Mr. Romano came to the United States at the age of 9 with his parents and grew up in Springfield. He attended the design academy and the American Academy in Rome. He was a member of the board and vice president of the design academy from 1967 to 1974 and was a member of the Century Club.

If one researches the American Academy in Rome, they will find that it was founded by several familiarly powerful individuals and entities, including Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and Rockefeller. According to Wikipedia:

The Academy introduced bills to the U.S. Congress to make it a “national institution,” which was successful. In 1904, the Academy moved into Villa Mirafiore, which was soon purchased and renovated. They formed an endowment, which raised over a million dollars, designating those having donated over $100,000 as founders.

These founders included:

McKim, Harvard College

The Carnegie Foundation

J.P. Morgan, J.P. Morgan, Jr.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., The Rockefeller Foundation

William K. Vanderbilt

Henry Walters, and others.”

Now, to single him out as a student of that institution and say he was instructed by someone to make the 1937 art-piece would be unfounded.

What can be gathered from this? He was definitely an esteemed and well connected artist, so if people think it is likely the smartphone was conceived of 7 decades before its alleged creation, there is room for further investigation.

Albeit unlikely that he had inside knowledge, that’s how you figure out why a person might make a prophetic painting: you research the person who made it, and try to see if they have any interesting history or connections.

Is it possible that the iPhone was actually a brick or some tool that the man in the painting was holding? It’s a strange way to look at a brick or tool, considering he was looking down at the center of the object and making a face as if it were a screen.

Some have suggested it was meant to depict him holding a mirror. According to Daniel Crown:

To put it in the kindliest possible terms, Romano’s so-called ‘abstract’ aesthetic was willfully ambiguous,” he said. “When Romano painted the mural, Americans were obsessed with the ‘noble savage’ trope. Given the scene’s focus on the founding of Springfield, Romano, in reductive fashion, was probably trying to capture the introduction of modernity into a curious but technologically stunted community, which was instantly bewitched by Pynchon’s treasure trove of shiny objects.

It can be an entertaining critical thinking exercise to try and unravel the mystery of something like this.

(Image credit: VICE)