An Art Historian’s Very Serious Analysis Of Beyoncé’s Pregnancy Portrait
This is a classic work of art and we can prove it.
Bey has always liked her art and a dramatic stylised look — both of which were on show in her pregnancy Insta-reveal today.
No matter how much people may denigrate it as gossip fodder or trashy pop culture, the photo is replete with rich visual references. The pose, the veil, those outrageous floral arrangements — they just scream art history.
The first thing that struck me was the FLOWERS. Flowers symbolise fecundity, and Beyoncé is certainly doing well in that department as she is having twins! The pic is also well aligned with famed examples of maternity portraits.
The first I thought of was Paula Modersohn-Becker’s, Self-Portrait on the Sixth Wedding Anniversary from 1906. Here, the German Expressionist turned to show off her naked growing belly (FYI she was not actually pregnant at the time).
Beyoncé’s image is, however, closer in look to Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace. Here the artist is again naked but outdoors, in nature — a fertile earth mother. She also painted Self-Portrait with Hat and Veil, with the same vibrant colours and that stare looking out from behind her veil.
But what is stronger than just the look of these images is the vibe; the way that Beyoncé and Modersohn-Becker take control of their self-image, manipulating the way that they appear and the unflinching posing of their bodies.
I’m also getting a bit of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled 205, which references Raphael’s La Fornarina (keep up folks), but it’s probably just the veil over the stomach (which is prosthetic) and the knowing look.
Motherhood is obviously the main theme here, and what better model than the Virgin Mary? The veil is very Italian-Renaissance Madonna.
Like in this Botticelli work, where Mary is out in the garden looking after baby Jesus, but the flowers here are nothing like the floral extravaganza of Beyoncé’s photo. That would be more akin to this later one by Jan Brueghel, who made a thing of painting floral borders around the Virgin and Child (his pal later Peter Paul Rubens tried it out too).
Continuing the flower-frame trend is Frida Kahlo’s much later Self Portrait: The Frame, which has the same kind of saturated colour and decorative feel as Bey’s picture. This floral background is as full and vibrant as Laura Knight’s Rose and Gold (a gorgeous portrait of her sister), Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Pre-Raphaelite verdant splendour, and Andy Warhol’s brightly coloured silk-screened Flowers. Do you know how many images of women and flowers there are?
There is also something of Tamara de Lempicka in the weight that Beyoncé holds in the picture — a sort of almost monumental figure that dominates the space. It’s as though she’s channelling the women in The Straw Hat (more flowers!) or Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti, where de Lempicka paints herself driving with the most amazing ‘don’t fuck with me’ expression.
Kinda like Bey, right?
Kate is not that kind of doctor. She is a part-time academic who also writes on art and culture, and is currently working on a passion project about women in horror. She tweets at @final_fatale