What’s really happening in ‘time travel’ 19th century painting with woman ‘holding an iPhone’?

Rob Waugh

It’s a pose all of us are familiar with: people hunched over, intently staring down at a smartphone even as they walk through the streets.

But it’s a little less familiar in the context of a 19th-century painting.

Spotting such ‘anachronisms’ has become a hobby for conspiracy theorists online, some of whom genuinely believe such paintings are evidence of time travel.

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But what’s really happening in this painting, ‘The Expected One’ by Austrian artist Ferdinand Georg Waldmüllerin painting at the Neue Pinakothek museum in Munich.


Retired Glasgow local government worker Peter Russell highlighted the strange image in an interview with Motherboard – saying it showed how our interpretation was coloured by our views.

Russell said, ‘‘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.

‘The big change is that in 1850 or 1860, every single viewer would have identified the item that the girl is absorbed in as a hymnal or prayer book.