Back in March, Getty’s social media team invited you to bring creativity to quarantine by re-creating a favorite artwork with three objects (or people or pets) in your home. A tremendous outpouring of beauty, wit, and hilarity followed, as hundreds of thousands of you posted re-creations to the #GettyMuseumChallenge, since transformed into a book raising funds for charity.
Many of you have asked about Getty curators’ favorites. In response, three members of Getty’s curatorial teams (representing antiquities, manuscripts, and paintings, respectively) have joined up to offer our perspective on several favorites. As you’ll see, we’re particularly drawn to the many brilliant images that illuminate aspects of the original art—and of the human condition in the time of COVID-19.
This was one of the first examples of the Getty Museum Challenge that I saw, and it wowed me immediately. It’s a huge cliché to say that it brings a mute and ancient artwork to life, but it really does, and it’s so exciting to see someone engage with an object in our collection with such wit and creativity.
The re-creation has been illustrated many times now, and still prompts new thoughts. The substitution of the harp with the vacuum continues to make me smile — but now I wonder whether it has deeper resonance. The ancient harpist used his instrument to sing of heroism and mythic valor. This new version seems to bestow a similar glory upon the daily tasks that continue during lockdown.
This re-creation effectively conveys the experience of gazing into an Athenian drinking cup, with the sheer black sheet serving as a background. I’m really impressed, too, by the careful attention paid to the drapery’s rhythmic folds and the posture of the feet.
The seated youth with a staff on the ancient vase is not immediately identifiable, but both the shield hanging in the background and comparison with other scenes (such as a cup in Getty’s collections) suggest that he could be Achilles. At the start of Homer’s Iliad, the hero withdraws to his tent, protesting against his treatment by the Greek army. Here, with fabric masking his face, Achilles’ self-isolation mirrors our current experience. How much do we lose by cutting ourselves off from those who need us?
Our 16th-century model book of calligraphy, with scribe Georg Bocskay’s intricate and decorative letterforms combined with artist Joris Hoefnagel’s masterfully rendered examples of fruit, flowers, insects, and other natural specimens, provided re-creators with ample opportunities for reusing household objects.
I especially like these, because even though some of Hoefnagel’s renderings seem hyper-realistic, some are artistic inventions: insects and flowers that don’t really exist in nature. Seeing them re-created with stand-ins feels especially on-brand for this manuscript. Some of my favorites are these two re-creations of different folios.
The first (above), which uses dried pasta and matches to evoke the sense of written lines and the highly decorated descenders that cover this page, combines a number of common household items: eggs evoke the ripened roundedness of Hoefnagel’s pears, a silicone pot holder is a decidedly contemporary take on the color and shape of the tulip. I especially appreciate the evocation of the parchment with the use of the paper bag, complete with foliation in the upper right corner.
This second version uses a printed crossword puzzle as its base, which imitates the complexity of Bocskay’s neatly organized words and elaborate scribal flourishes. I find this especially poignant: this manuscript was created in the mid-16th century, after printing had become the dominant method of producing books; Bocskay’s calligraphy had a specialized aesthetic appeal for his high-ranking patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I.
To me, this book represents the continued appeal of the handmade, bespoke luxury book, even in an age of print. It seems quite fitting to me that this example of modern print—the crossword puzzle, which invites interactivity to create a marriage between print and the handwritten—stands in for the complex decorated letters on this folio. I also can’t help but marvel at the visual accuracy of the size and delicate coloration of the apple used in the re-creation. Seeing it side by side with Hoefnagel’s version gave me an even deeper appreciation of this artist’s skill at naturalism.
Another manuscript image that attracted a few brave re-creators was this decorated initial “D” from a late-13th-century Swiss Psalter, a prayer book that contains the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament and was probably used for personal devotion.
This relatively unusual image gives us a picture of Christian charity and compassion: a woman bringing food to a bedridden man suffering from leprosy. Both of these modern re-creations do a great job of evoking the large blocks of color, the deep folds of the man’s blankets, the exaggerated red spots covering the man’s skin, the woman’s wrapped headwear, and the gesture of connection between the two figures who both reach out to grasp the bowl. I especially admire the commitment to the fish at the center of each image—in one case a real (!) fish, and in the other a beautiful, drawn version.
Manuscripts are a real challenge to re-create since they often include text, and I liked the two different approaches to the text hovering over the figures’ heads here: one an imagined translation and the other a great visual approximation of some very idiosyncratic cursive-style medieval script.
I was so glad to see a re-created version of this image, probably one of my favorites in the collection: Denise Poncher before a vision of Death. The original image appears in a book of hours that dates to around 1500 and was owned by a young noblewoman, Denise Poncher. It was intended to remind her of her own mortality, guiding her prayer as she contemplated the fate of her soul after death.
In the re-created version, the figure of the woman has been captured perfectly with a red robe with dramatic sleeves and black headdress as she prays using an open book. The horrifying skeleton covered in rotting flesh and carrying several sickles is evoked through black clothing and repurposed gardening implements that also manage to look pretty threatening in this context. Meanwhile, the bodies of those that Death has already conquered are here poignantly re-enacted by willing children and a stuffed otter (I especially love his hat).
My favorite detail here is the distant castle of the original background appearing in this re-creation on a computer monitor.
I was thrilled to see re-creations of paintings that entered the collection after I joined Getty, such as Agnolo Bronzino’s Virgin and Child with Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist.
Among several great re-creations, this one in particular really nailed the details: the purple, red, and blue of Mary’s garments, the wild strawberries that the infant St. John holds in his hand, even the faux animal fur (or maybe it’s shag carpet?) to replicate the texture of the camel skin in which St. John is clothed.
The re-creation also captured aspects of Bronzino’s approach in less obvious ways. Note the lighting, which accentuates the folds in Mary’s robes; the network of glances that knit the figures together; and the use of a postcard to replicate the fortifications in the background, which reminds me of how artists sometimes used stock images of medieval fortresses as stand-ins for The Holy Land.
Finally, I appreciate how the re-creation was presented — in a gilt frame, hanging next to the actual Getty picture as if part of a pair. It calls to mind the other version of Bronzino’s picture, with only a few subtle differences, that hangs at the National Gallery in London.
I was also excited to see examples that moved beyond the visuals and provoked thought about how paintings are made. For example, in this take on Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, the Mathon siblings used artists’ supplies, like colored pens and pencils, to recreate the stems.
In using artists’ materials to construct the image, the re-creator gets at something fundamental about Van Gogh’s approach: he called attention to the materials and processes of art-making by using thick layers of paint, a technique called impasto, and by accentuating his brushstrokes.
I also appreciate the way the re-creator carefully planned the image, yet made it seem as if the objects were tossed about haphazardly on the ground. It not only captures the random and unruly way flowers grow but also hints at the tension between preparation and spontaneity characteristic of the work of Van Gogh and other impressionist and post-impressionist painters.