Do We All See the Man Holding an iPhone in This 1937 Painting?

Wait for it.

Lower right quadrant. Seated. Holding a small, black, rectangular object at about eye level.

See him?

It's not clear exactly who this man is, but he might as well be popping off a selfie or thumbing through his news feed. He seems to gaze into the handheld device in such a way that renders all-too-familiar today, as if he's just read a bad tweet or recoiling from a Trump-related push notification from the Times. He would almost look unremarkable, if only he and the world around him existed at any point in the past decade.

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.

Flash forward, and we can pin the entrance of the portable cellular telephone into the historical record to a precise date—April 3, 1973—nearly four decades before Steve Jobs, in 2007, revealed the so-called "one device," now arguably the best-selling product in history.

In other words, what the man in the painting holds simply cannot be an iPhone.

So, what is it?

learn more