Toni Clayton, American Pop & Modern Specialist
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Though Andy Warhol is remembered for his portraits of glamorous celebrities and the everyday products of modern consumerism, Renaissance Paintings reveals his fascination with art history. The series focuses on iconic imagery and artists regarded as 'Old Masters', a status Warhol himself seemed to strive towards.
Though Warhol typically represented the most memorable faces and brands of his age, he also sought inspiration from art history. Renaissance Paintings cements Warhol's fascination with, specifically, Italian Renaissance artists. In particular, Warhol appropriated the works of Paolo Uccello, Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.
In the formative years of his artistic career, Warhol developed his now-iconic method of screen printing, a method which would come to shape the Pop Art movement. One of the first subjects he depicted through screen print was da Vinci's Mona Lisa. This multi-coloured, repeated image of da Vinci's 'masterpiece' satirises authenticity, and makes the viewer question the cultural importance and monetary value we attribute to so-called 'Old Masters'.
By reproducing infamous Old Master works in screen prints, like a commercial printing press, Warhol showed that art itself is yet another commodity. Like the images of celebrities printed and disseminated for mass media, Warhol could appropriate, alter and mass-produce Old Master works from art history. Through his speedy, factory-esque approach, Warhol reduced these Renaissance Paintings to the same status as a tin of Campbell's soup.
As with all his Renaissance Paintings prints, Warhol cropped a specific element from da Vinci's The Annunciation, focusing on the two hands reaching across the composition and the landscape in between them. Through layering and re-printing, Warhol gave this infamous oil and tempera work a graphic appeal.
By appropriating the 'details' of these famous Renaissance Paintings and distorting their colour palettes, Warhol transformed their meaning. His reworking of Uccello's St. George And The Dragon, for example, altered a once chaotic painting into a relatively tranquil scene.
Renaissance Paintings is a testament to Warhol's obsession with icons and stardom. Indeed, each of the paintings and the artists that created them are considered as epochal in the history of art. Warhol's appropriation and reproduction of their work proves their stature in the art world, and his own respect for Old Masters.
With his bold and unnatural colours, graphic outlining and cropping of these Renaissance Paintings, Warhol called into question what we deem as 'high' art, versus the lowly art of printmaking. Like Pop Art itself, the series satirises the tradition and materiality that underscores 'fine art'.
Warhol reproduced and reimagined his Renaissance Paintings with precision and ingenuity, and therefore placed himself in this lineage of 'master' artists. Like his Renaissance predecessors, Warhol too was considered a celebrity artist in his own time, and has had an enduring influence on art and culture since his death in 1987.