All Louvre Masterpieces from Beyoncé & Jay-Z’s APES**T Video Explained
min Read9 May 2022
The famous music video shows Jay-Z and Beyoncé at the Louvre Museum in Paris. There are shots of them standing in front of the Mona Lisa wearing pink and mint suits as well as shots of dancers in tights and crop tops. I don’t have to say that the video features a ton of artworks. Magnificent artworks. And guess what – in this article we have ALL of the Louvre masterpieces which you can spot in APES**t EXPLAINED.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z released their first joint album in 2018, the surprise nine-track record Everything Is Love, and a music video for its debut single APES**t.
Most of the masterpieces you will see here are about power, money and victory. You can see a little bit of sacrifice and drama too, but that seems to be a usual part of every road to success. All these ingredients match perfectly to the lyrics of the song. Because:
I can’t believe we made it (This is what we made, made)
This is what we’re thankful for (This is what we thank, thank)
I can’t believe we made it (This a different angle)
Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit?
Just take a look yourself:
1. Galerie d’Apollon
The Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video starts with the shots of the Galerie d’Apollon‘s ceiling. At the request of Louis XIV, in 1663 Charles Le Brun painted the race of the sun (Apollo, the Roman god of the sun) through time and space. During the second half of the 18th century, when the Academy of Painting occupied the gallery, the painters Taraval, Durameau, J. J. Lagrenée, Callet and Renou completed the decoration with canvases which were their piece of reception at the Academy. From 1848 to 1850, the gallery was restored by the architect Duban who commissioned Delacroix the central composition, and Müller and Guichard two compositions.
The gallery served as a model for the famous Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles.
The scene we see on the video represents the ancient sun-god Apollo’s first triumph, when, at Delphi, he slew with his bow and arrows the serpent Python, which is dying in the sea.
2. Andrea Solari, Madonna of the Green Cushion
Madonna with the Green Cushion is a devotional image of the Virgin nursing Jesus. The cushion from the title, its softness and visible comfort accompanies this scene of family tenderness and wellbeing. In Andrea Solario’s work we can see a discreet influence of Leonardo da Vinci who was his contemporary.
3. Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa
The ocean of ink has been spilled on Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. It’s the iconic, most recognized and popular work of art in the world. It’s no surprise that it has a key role in the whole Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video. From our side we can add couple of intriguing facts:
1. Mona has been once stolen in 1911 (but then recovered in 1914).
2. It has a twin (about which you can read here).
3. It’s super mysterious, but probably it presents Francesco del Giocondo’s wife.
4. It holds the Guinness World Record for the highest known insurance valuation in history at $100 million in 1962, which is worth nearly $800 million in 2017.
It’s just super-glamorous, super-famous and super-super. Just like our today’s heroes.
4. Nike of Samothrace
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace, is a marble Hellenistic sculpture of the Greek goddess of victory from around 2nd century BCE. Since 1884 when it was found, it is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world and one of the few examples of the Hellenistic sculptures that survived until our days (we know a lot of them but as Roman copies). Most likely it commemorated the Battle of Cos from 255 BCE in which Antigonus II Gonatas of Macedonia won over the fleet of Ptolemy II of Egypt.
5. Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii
Oath of the Horatii was created by Jacques-Louis David in 1784. It immediately became a huge success with critics and the public, and remains one of the best known paintings in the Neoclassical style.
It depicts a scene from a Roman legend about a dispute between two cities, Rome and Alba Longa. Instead of the two cities sending their armies to war, they agree to choose three men from each city; the victor in that fight will be the victorious city. Two families decided to fight: three Roman brothers of the Horatii family and three brothers from a family of Alba Longa, the Curiatii.
On the painting we see the Romans saluting their father who holds their swords out for them. Of the three Horatii brothers, only one survived the confrontation. However, it is the surviving brother who is able to kill the other three fighters from Alba Longa. The woman crying whilst sitting down is Camilla, a sister of the Horatii brothers, who is also betrothed to one of the Curiatii fighters, and thus she weeps in the realization that, in any case, she will lose someone she loves.
6. Great Sphinx of Tanis
The sphinx is a creature with the body of a lion and the head of a king. This one has been connected by the archeologists to the pharaohs Ammenemes II (12th Dynasty, 1929-1895 BCE), Merneptah (19th Dynasty, 1212-1202 BCE) and Shoshenq I (22nd Dynasty, 945-924 BCE), but it may be earlier as well.
The word “sphinx” is of Greek origin. The appropriate Egyptian appellation for a statue or image of this kind was shesep-ankh (“living image”). The creature was a symbolic representation of the relationship between the sun god (the lion’s body) and the king (the human head), and was the “living image of the king”, demonstrating his strength and his close association with the god Ra.
The sphinx was always positioned as a guardian of important places, such as temple entrances – it was the defender of Egypt.
7. Jacques-Louis David, Coronation of Napoleon I
Here we have another painting in Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video, a masterpiece of modern propaganda created by Jacques-Louis David. The coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of the French took place on December 2, 1804. Napoleon wanted to establish legitimacy of his imperial reign, with its new royal family and new nobility. Therefore, he designed a new coronation ceremony that was unlike the ceremony used for the kings of France. Napoleon’s was a sacred ceremony held in the great cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris in the presence of Pope Pius VII, and he firstly coronated himself and then, what we see on David’s canvas, his wife, Josephine.
Let’s call him, a self-made Emperor.
8. Jacques-Louis David, The Intervention of the Sabine Women
Here we have a story of Romulus’ (who established the city of Rome, with his brother Remus) wife Hersilia – the daughter of Titus Tatius, leader of the Italic tribe of Sabines – rushing between her husband and her father and placing her babies between them. Hersilia simply wanted to stop the bloodbath happening around her and she made it. The horseman on the right is putting his sword back into its sheath while, further away, hands and helmets are raised in gestures of peace. The painter produced marketing material to accompany the first exhibition of the painting with his own account of the episode and anticipated the controversy over his use of nudity. You can read more about this artwork here.
9. Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Madame Récamier
Juliette Récamier was a Parisian socialite, a wife of a wealthy banker. Here, a 23-year-old is reclining on an Directoire style sofa in a simple Empire line dress with almost bare arms, and short hair “à la Titus”. Leaving an empty, flat background was extremely avant-garde for 1800. Also, David never finished the painting and it’s unknown why. One more thing – the sofa became a hit and every fashionable socialite who run a salon should have one like this.
In Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video, the two dancers seem to be a haunting echo of the post-colonial past. Their arrangement repeats the setup of sofa from the painting. The slavery is being a base of the wealth and social status of the Récamiers.
10. Ary Scheffer, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appraised by Dante and Virgil
This is a story of a hopeless romance. In the first volume, the Inferno, of the The Divine Comedy, Dante and Virgil meet Francesca and her lover Paolo in the second circle of hell, reserved for the lustful. The couple are trapped in an eternal whirlwind, doomed to be forever swept through the air just as they allowed themselves to be swept away by their passions. Dante calls out to the lovers and he speaks with Francesca. She obliquely states a few of the details of her life and her death, and Dante, apparently familiar with her story, correctly identifies her by name. He asks her what led to her and Paolo’s damnation, and Francesca’s story strikes such a chord within Dante that he faints out of pity.
11. Rosso Fiorentino, Pietà
François I, the king who invited Leonardo da Vinci to France invited also other Italian artists. Among them was Rosso Fiorentino from Florence, who worked on the decoration of the palace of Fontainebleau. A pietà in Italian meaning “pity”, “compassion” is a common subject in Christian art depicting the suffering Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, who on this painting has ginger beard.
12. Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa
The Raft of the Medusa, another masterpiece in Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video, depicts a moment from the aftermath of the wreck of the French ship Méduse, which ran aground off the coast of today’s Mauritania in 1816. Three days after the catastrophe at least 147 people were set adrift on a hurriedly constructed raft; all but 15 died in the 13 days before their rescue, and those who survived endured starvation and dehydration and practiced cannibalism. The story became an international scandal and the symbol of social inequalities – all of the lifeboats were used by the noblemen and rich, the poor had no chance to rescue themselves.
The painting is of a monumental scale of 491 × 716 cm (193.3 × 282.3 in), so that most of the figures rendered are life-sized. Géricault worked with the survivors and the carpenter to construct an accurately detailed scale model of the raft, which was reproduced on the finished canvas, even showing the gaps between some of planks. The artist used friends as models, among them were Eugène Delacroix, who modeled for the figure in the foreground with face turned downward and one arm outstretched. Also the two of the raft survivors are seen in the shadow at the foot of the mast.
13. I.M. Pei, The Louvre Pyramid
The Louvre Pyramid is a large glass and metal pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace. It serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. Completed in 1989, it has become a landmark of the city of Paris but it also caused plenty of controversies, as for some it doesn’t match to the Classicist façade of the Louvre.
14. Théodore Géricault, The Charging Chasseur
This painting portrays a mounted Napoleonic cavalry officer and it’s one of the symbols of the French Romanticism. But there is something unique about this scene – it is not a typical moment of military victory, it seems that the battle is about to be lost. Instead of a typical for Géricault times idealized scene based on Ancient Roman or Greek motifs, the artist chose to depict a romanticized scene full of drama, of a fighter who knows his destiny but he still fights.
15. Hermes tying his sandal
This is a Roman copy of the Greek Hellenistic original bronze sculpture created by Lysippus, who was an official portraitist to Alexander the Great. The art historians claim that this is the image of Hermes tying his sandal while listening to the orders of his father, Zeus, but as well it may simply represent an idealized athlete.
16. Venus de Milo
Another iconic masterpiece appearing in Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video. The statue is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, but we can’t tell that for sure as she has no attributes. Also the missing pieces of marble and absence of attributes made the restoration and identification of the statue difficult. According to whether she held a bow or an amphora, she was Artemis or a Danaid. She may have held an apple — an allusion to the Judgement of Paris — a crown, a mirror, or a shield in which she admired her reflection. However she might also be the sea goddess Amphitrite, who was venerated on the island of Melos.
17. Paolo Veronese, The Wedding at Cana
When it comes to a good party, the Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese is just perfect, which is visible even on the detail chosen by the video’s director. In this biblical story Jesus converts water to wine. The grand style of the sumptuous feasts of food and music were characteristic of 16th-century Venetian society. The banquet dishes signify wealth, power, and sophistication.
18. Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of a Black Woman (Negress)
This it the last painting shown in Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video, and it is not a coincidence. The painting created by the female artist Marie-Guillemine Benoist was painted just a few years after the official end of slavery, and it swiftly became a symbol of emancipation. It’s one of the only pre-20th century portraits of a black person in the Louvre that’s not explicitly a portrait of a slave. A huge and powerful symbol.
Now you should be fluent in explaining art motifs in Jay-Z and Beyoncé Louvre video to your friends. At the end you can again watch the clip here:
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