Does art have a supreme mission? A duty to its public? A guiding principle? This question, which has long obsessed a large number of great masters, philosophers and intellectuals from all genres, has, alas, no answer. The emergence of abstract art with Kandinsky’s Black Arch in 1912 and of conceptual art with Duchamp’s Fountain in 1917 has considerably blurred the lines. More than ever, art is without limit, without definition, without rules.
However, it is possible to find common characteristics in all forms of art: notably, the implementation of a certain technique and the search for originality. But originality in art is a strange concept. Nothing is ever completely original, coming out of nothingness. Reference to the past is inevitable. References to the past are everywhere. And, at times, reference to the past is desired, insisted, demanded.
In the selection of works Artsper wanted to present to you, the artists were inspired by great masters’ classic paintings, and reinterpreted their messages or their techniques. An interesting artistic approach in a world taking huge leaps forward.
The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci
This artwork by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the great masters of art history, is admired by all and has been copied the world over by artists and businesses since it was painted between 1495 and 1498. It depicts Christ’s last supper surrounded by his 12 apostles.
The Last Supper by David Lachapelle, shows us a Jesus who respects Christian iconography perfectly, but his apostles have changed slightly. Besides tattoos and caps, they without doubt resemble more closely the real apostles (Jews from Israel descended from the Egyptians), than with the European physique Da Vinci gave them.
Triple A (2012) by Anne-Catherine Becker-Echivard,the artist denounces the dehumanization of work and ridicules the sacrosanct aspect of corporatism. In order to portray her message, there’s nothing quite like globally powerful iconography. But would Jesus and his apostles have liked to pose as goldfish? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. (Luke, 23:24).
Innocent X, Diego Velasquez
Painted in 1650, Innocent X by Diego Velazquez is an emblematic painting. Sponsored by Pope Innocent X, it sparked major controversy in the episcopal palace. While the Pope wanted a portrait of wisdom and divine enlightenment, Velazquez painted him as he was: authoritarian and reddened by his frequent tantrums, ‘Troppo vero!’ (too realistic!) the Pope would say to him before demanding him to start again. But Velazquez, with the strength of the Spanish character, refused categorically and the Pope ended up accepting the painting.
Francis Bacon is a painter whose work is the footprint of great tradition within painting, as we recall in the exhibition Francis Bacon and the Art Tradition. This reworking of Innocent X in 1952 reminds us of the violence and force which are so characteristic of his work. The aftermath of the atrocities of the Second World War, the tortured image he gave of the past, shocked and disturbed spectators. While Pius XII was still the Pope in 1952, Francis Bacon’s Pope was already half dead…
The quality of Yan Pei-Ming’s work is twofold. With a very great technical mastery of oil painting, he manages to give a pop note to his pictorial repertoire by repeating strong subjects in different shades such as Andy Warhol. His reworking of Innocent X in 2014 goes hand in hand with this idea.
The abduction of Ganymede, Uknown Artist and The Descent from the Cross, Van Der Weyden
The Descent from the Cross by Rogier Van Der Weyden (1435) is a major work in the history of art. Some would even say it marks the beginning of the Renaissance in art, so well are the reliefs, figuration and emotions executed.
As for the abduction of Ganymede, it is a recurrent mythological theme in the European pictorial tradition. It refers to the abduction of the young Ganymede by Jupiter who metamorphosed into an eagle. It was a relatively controversial theme as it made reference to homosexuality, and even the rape, of a young boy.
A young French artist, The Kid, was indirectly inspired by Rogier Van Der Weyden’s work of art and by the theme of Ganymede’s abduction, in order to deliver through this a contemporary vision. By combining Greek-Roman mythology with the Christian tradition, and by blending the image of sacrifice with that of the victim, the piece Blessed is the lamb whose blood flows (2015) plunges us into deep reflection.
The young man is a minor sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States. Since then, there are many possible interpretations : he has sacrificed his life to fulfill an ideal, but the price he is paying to achieve this ideal is too high (see Descent of Cross); his youth has been violated by justice – using as a symbol the American eagle – which turns to injustice (see Abduction of Ganymede) etc. A work of great force, bringing together technique, reference to the past, relevance and the force of a contemporary theme.
Saint Sebastian, Guido Reni
The theme of Saint Sebastian was widespread during the Renaissance. It allowed artists to depict passion, suffering and the naked male body. Guido Reni in 1615 produced a very sensual version full of melancholy, on the edges of eroticism.
The famous duo Pierre and Gilles were inspired by this in 1987. But this time, we are under no illusion as to the erotic sensuality of the model. Labeled kitsch, the piece indulges in contemplative masochism, an apology of sexual pleasure in pain.
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci
It wouldn’t be possible to conclude this article without the most famous of paintings; the most famous of the great masters, the most shared, the most copied and the most revisited in the history of art. Amongst the innumerable reworks by contemporary artists, notably that of Roy Lichtenstein for pop art and Space Invader for street art must be mentioned.