THIS painting by Marie Guillemine Benoist was painted in 1800 and re-created this year for Louboutin’s A/W campaign. It’s really exciting for me to see art using its heritage and re-inventing old images which were so potent and controversial when they were created and still are today. I also have a bit of an obsession with the symbolism of shoes in art and so this is a really exciting image to me.
Guillemine Benoist’s artistic career began in the workshop of Delacroix; it was very unusual for girls of this era to receive any formal artistic training though both she and her sister became prolific. The painting is unusual because the black woman which it depicts is the sole focus of the painting. Often during this period in France “negroes” were painted as types rather than paying individual attention. There are several confusing and ambiguous symbols within the painting; the white headdress is neither the decorative fashion of the aristocracy nor the plain white cap of a servant girl; the room is bare but the chair is ancienne-regime; the breasts are bare, yet she is neither divinity nor allegory. Traditional baroque paintings depicted white women serving black women, yet by painting her, Guillemine Benoist creates the scenario that she is serving the black woman, equating her position as a woman to that of a slave. The image was painted at a time of new social equality in France where all men were suddenly equal and society was undecided about the position of women or blacks, the painting became a symbol for both the emancipation of women and the freedom of slaves. The painting is little known but I think so important, I really love that Louboutin has brought it back into our memory with this promotional campaign.
A few creative liberties taken with Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot’s “Portrait of a Girl”
A brooding and sumptuous "Magdalene and the Flame" by Georges de la Tour
making the 1500s sexy- re-visiting François Clouet's "Portrait of Elisabeth of Austria, Queen of France"
These were just my favorites, there were a few others, but my passion is for Benoist, who is a genius, and I love the photographs attention to the original detail. I think the attention on the signature red sole of each is brilliantly sexy, really exploiting the relationship between shoes and sex. If i had unlimited resources, I would absolutely love to re-create Caravaggio and Michelangelo with a modern twist, perhaps with ipod headphones or the strong light and shade created by texting in the dark- who knows, if I have some crazy friends and too much free time maybe I will, but for now my resources are far too limited, and have more chance with the previous year’s Vanitas inspired shoots. Just a little more in my reach-though obviously not the shoes.