Twins for Beyoncé the Renaissance Madonna

Queen Bee: This is the only image ever to have eight million likes on Instagram. © Beyoncé

Stop everything! Beyoncé is pregnant with twins. In just a few hours, this photo became the most-liked image on Instagram ever. The news trended on Twitter. Is it a lot of fuss over nothing?

She is a woman who knows how to keep a secret. Gossip about her private life is never confirmed or denied, only alluded to in enigmatic song lyrics. Since 2013, music fans have referred to the act of releasing a surprise album as ‘doing a Beyoncé’. On Wednesday night, Beyoncé shocked people again by announcing that she is pregnant — with twins.

‘We have been blessed two times over’, she wrote in a short statement. But it was the photograph accompanying her words which broke the internet. Posing in $225 underwear, she cradled her bump while kneeling in front of an altar of flowers. She stared proudly into the camera, her face covered by a sheer veil.

Beyoncé is almost as much a visual artist as a musician, and her fans immediately began dissecting the photograph’s true meaning. ‘This pic is a powerful statement on bodies, maternity & the sacred. Beyoncé continues to push us to reimagine womanhood. A feminist icon,’ said the writer Laura Rankin.

‘The photo is forward-thinking but with traces of historical art traditions from the past – conjuring an appealing remix of rococo excesses, Flemish portraiture and Latin American funerary symbols,’ wrote The Guardian.

It went on to note that the cerulean blue background evoked the ‘virtue and authority’ of the Virgin Mary, while the saturated, swollen flowers suggested a halo.

Beyoncé is not the first celebrity to take part in a high-concept pregnancy photoshoot. The actress Demi Moore caused huge controversy when she was photographed while naked and pregnant in 1991. Since then, Sienna Miller, Britney Spears and even Melania Trump have all posed with their baby bumps.

And although paintings of pregnant women are somewhat rare in western art history, Beyoncé echoes these traditions too. Consider the Arnofilni Portrait from 1434, Raphael’s La Donna Gravida from 1506, or Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait from 1906. In all three, the subject rests a hand on her bump with a serene facial expression. Sound familiar?

Bey-twice

You are reading too much into this, say the cynics. Surely this is all a rather vain, elaborate ploy to seize the spotlight and sell more albums? And more to the point — in such turbulent times, does an expecting celebrity really deserve to be the most-read news story on the BBC and The New York Times for a full 24 hours?

Yes, respond delighted Beyoncé fans — and serious art critics. This is no ordinary selfie. This photograph will surely be remembered as a vital artistic contribution to an important cultural topic: motherhood. It draws on the religious and decorative symbols of the past, while embracing a very 21st-century medium. Once again, Bey has reminded us who runs the world. Her.

You Decide

  1. Are people reading too much into Beyoncé’s pregnancy photo?
  2. Should the image be considered a work of art?

Activities

  1. Create your own artwork on the theme of ‘Motherhood’.
  2. Choose one of the paintings mentioned in this article, and write a short essay plan which compares it to Beyoncé’s photo.

Some People Say...

“Photography is not art.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is everyone freaking out?
Beyoncé is the biggest popstar in the world, so naturally there is a lot of interest in her personal life. But it is more than that. In the last five years she has grown into a serious multimedia artist, whose work has a significant impact on discussions of feminism and race. The magazine GQ described her latest album, Lemonade, as not just an ‘important statement’ but a ‘musical masterwork.’
Why did she announce it now?
Perhaps because it would start becoming more difficult to hide the baby bump. But many also think that she chose February 1st to mark the beginning of Black History Month in the USA. Last year, she surprised everyone in the same month by releasing the single and music video Formation. She performed it at the Super Bowl the next day.

Word Watch

Surprise album
Beyoncé shocked the world when she released a self-titled album on iTunes in December 2013 with no warning. The practice is becoming more common, partly due to the ease of releasing digital downloads (and keeping them a secret).
Rococo
A decorative style from 18th-century France. It celebrated elaborate, highly feminine decadence, with lots of floral motifs.
Flemish
Portraits in 15th-century Flanders (now part of Belgium) often showed their subjects in front of a landscape, with hands clasped in front of them.
Funerary
In Catholic Latin-American countries, flowers are piled on top of graves during funerals. ‘This image invokes a funerary, which is slightly confusing considering it announces the coming birth of her children,’ The Guardian mused.
Controversy
The portrait of Moore was taken by the renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz for the front cover of Vanity Fair. Sexualised images of pregnant women had not been part of mainstream culture until then, and some shops were so offended that they refused to stock the issue. The shoot has been recreated many times since.

Subjects