Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is the queen and master of art referencing. From Italian Renaissance to Afro-Futurism, she has taken elements from it all to create her own visual language. A piece of art can help you generate ideas, and invoke certain emotions that words cannot, it can inspire and spark creativity. Beyoncé’s artistry depends as much on her creativity as it does on her empathy, her vulnerability, and her humanity, all quintessential elements of being a true and lasting artist.
EVERYTHING IS LOVE
Beyoncé and Jay-Z dropped Everything Is Love in the summer of 2018. The collaborative album by The Carters amazed the entire world as it was a surprise drop but it was undeniably a hit. The music video for the first promotional track, “Apesh*t,” was filmed at the Louvre in Paris. In the music video, The Carters and their dancers move around the regal galleries of the museum creating contrast between their bodies and the works on display. Contemporary pop icons and artworks like the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace are featured. These are all identifiable historical treasures that have withstood centuries without losing their appeal.
The Coronation of Napoleon
This painting is by French artist, Jacques-Louis David and was painted in 1807. As the artist was the official painter of Napoleon, it shows the coronation of Napoleon I at Notre-Dame de Paris. Perhaps it signifies their own crowning as the King and Queen of hip hop?
She needs no introduction but Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous artwork miraculously made its way into this music video for its intro and outro. Mona Lisa is considered the archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance. It has been described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world. This scene is still a mystery but seems to represent some special love for them both.
Aphrodite or “Venus de Milo”
Although it’s lit by a black light, this famed marble statue is by Alexandros of Antioch and is a masterpiece of ancient Greek sculpture, and is probably one of the most famous ones. Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty, and procreation, and in this scene we see the couple holding hands.
The Birth of Venus
The green veil is an homage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Mexican Catholic Church. Art historian, Andrianna Campbell also draws parallels to the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Frida was a multifaceted woman at the center of her own celebrity and personal hardship, including several miscarriages and a tumultuous marriage to the very high-profile Diego Rivera. It’s easy for Beyoncé to feel a kinship. The reference is to the Roman goddess of sex, love, and fertility, directly alluding to Sandro Botticelli’s 15th-century masterpiece The Birth of Venus.
In February 2017, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter announced to the world via her own Instagram account that she was pregnant with twins. In the iconic photo, she is crouching, surrounded by poppies, peonies, orchids, and roses in white, pink, burgundy, and yellow. There is no hint of shyness in her gaze. She is semi-nude, protected by a veil, with a belly notably protruding. Los Angeles-based and Ethiopian-born artist, Awol Erizku has created this portfolio to celebrate and commemorate the announcement. His series is titled “I Have Three Hearts”—inspired by an accompanying poem by Somali-born, London-based Warsan Shire, who also collaborated on the lyrics for Lemonade.
In the music video for “Mine,” Beyoncé moves slowly, and the lighting is pure and clean. She wears a heavy veil and a strapless dress that gives the illusion of marble, like the surface of a sculpture. A model is resting on her lap. It is a direct reference to Michelangelo Buonarroti’s La Pietà, the Carrara marble renaissance sculpture finished in 1499. This is considered to be one of the greatest works by one of the greatest artists of all time. Later in the video, a man and a woman are kissing; with a white cloth covering their heads. They look very much like Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s painting The Lovers. Beyoncé is smoothly mixing Italian Renaissance, surrealism, R&B, and African beats. Talk about modern-day syncretism.
It is apparent that Beyonce’s music videos and life in general have an artistic influence. With the most common artist in her music videos being the Italian High Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci it makes sense why her new upcoming album is titled “Renaissance”. The anticipation for the visuals is just as big as that of the album.
Parts of this article were excerpted from the book Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, published last month by St. Martin’s Press. Copyright © 2019 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.