So I've got casual acquiantances linking to things on Twitter about how this gesture of sticking your hand in your shirt in your formal portrait is actually Masonic.

Stalin and Washington being portrayed with their hand in their shirt

Without worrying about how much the Masons did or did not influence history by being an secret society who thought they were all cool and occult, I'd like to know whether the characterization of this gesture as "Masonic" is actually accurate. Are there other things it could indicate, or stylistic reasons for being portrayed that way?

  • Hand-in-waistcoat gesture
    – Oliver_C
    May 25 '12 at 8:17
  • Thanks. I guess it's easy to find if you know enough to call it a 'waistcoat' specifically :)
    – user7287
    May 25 '12 at 21:52

This question as it is written is loaded for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, if you are you asking if this is a Masonic gesture, consider that there are also many works of art where this gesture is done where the people involved are clearly not Masons. So it is wrong to suggest that this pose is "purely" a Masonic gesture and providing an answer to the question as is, is misleading.

Secondly, and this has come up before on this site, you are asking about a secret society who: operates in secret, passes traditions on via word of mouth and does not have a published guidebook which states clearly what they do.

However, there is a supposed* Masonic gesture where the right hand is placed inside the coat / shirt that appears quite similar to the above gesture. So the answer to your question is it is possible, but don't confuse that with meaning that everyone who does this in a portrait is a Mason or is copying a Mason.

Other possible valid explanations:

  • It is a gesture to make the person look more stately or civilised
  • It was one of the ways a person could rest their hands during a long portrait
  • It was a common gesture in that period for portraits (in 500 years time people could be asking why do so many kids do the peace sign in photographs)

From Duncan's Masonic Ritual and Monitor by Malcolm C. Duncan [1866]

My words are Shem, Japhet, and Adoniram; my sign is this: (thrusting his hand in his bosom); it is in imitation of one given by God to Moses, when He commanded him to thrust his hand into his bosom, and, taking it out, it became as leprous as snow. My word of exhortation is explanatory of this sign, and is found in the writings of Moses, viz., fourth chapter of Exodus:

"And the Lord said unto Moses, Put now thine hand into thy

bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow,".



*In reference to the authenticity of this book or details within, refer to my second point above; this is a secret society. Furthermore rituals in one geographical area may only be for that limited area and not for the entire organisation or even at the country level for that matter.

Because of the reasons above it is not possible to make an accurate assumption about the Masons and say "oh yeah, this is something the Masons do". There is no evidence available to suggest that this is an organisation wide gesture. There is zero evidence to suggest that everyone who is doing this is making a Masonic symbol.

  • 1
    wouldn't the goal of a secret society be to have a symbol/gesture which has no evidence of being related to them?
    – Ryathal
    Aug 2 '12 at 13:47
  • 3
    I'm not sure exactly what you seek imply by saying the question is "loaded"; my BS indicator was reading north of 99.998% when I read it, which is why I bothered coming here. I was simply seeking an affirmative explanation of what it is to supplement me saying "that's BS" and really felt no need to drag the rest of the conspiracy-theory nonsense into it one way or another because that would be overkill. Cut me some slack, Jack.
    – user7287
    Aug 2 '12 at 16:14
  • 2
    @fennec - Don't take it that way. I actually upvoted your question. It's just the tone I write in that makes it seem like I'm being critical of the question when I'm not. I just want to point out to others who read this answer that I am being very clear that when I say it is a Masonic symbol that people don't jump to conclusions and say "it's confirmed; Stalin was doing a Masonic gesture!"
    – going
    Aug 2 '12 at 21:34
  • @xiahouzi79 - oh okay! thanks then. :D
    – user7287
    Aug 2 '12 at 22:51
  • 5
    Also, hands are notoriously difficult to paint realistically - certainly more difficult than a bulge in a coat. This hides one of them, and the other hand is often tucked behind the back when this pose is assumed.
    – John Lyon
    Aug 3 '12 at 7:06

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