Decoding Beyonc’s pregnancy pic: a remix of rococo and Flemish influences

It references European decadence, religious iconography and Latin American funeral traditions, painting her as a modern symbol of virtue and authority

Today, on the first day of Black History Month in the US, Beyonc announced on Instagram that shes pregnant and with twins, no less. It was a bright spot on the otherwise grim landscape of the past week and a half in news. 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.

In the frame Beyonc is seen kneeling at an altar, cradling her belly with one hand while she keeps the other hand (which, interestingly, doesnt show a wedding ring) posed slightly above. She is shrouded by a nearly sheer, tinted-tulle veil and is wearing satin blue underwear with a subtle, petaly ruffle. Since the medieval period, the Virgin Mary has often been depicted wearing shades of blue, a color used to signify virtue and authority. The bright, cerulean blue background reinforces this association and might even take it a step further.

Behind her glowing, studio-lit body, an enormous floral wreath suggests a sort of halo. The bulbous, super-saturated flowers behind her are hyperbolically lush and incredibly fake, adding a campy edge to the otherwise straightforwardly religious and, it should be noted, hyper-feminine composition.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Photograph: Beyonce/Instagram/PA

Beyonc, the expecting mother, is calm, composed and purposeful; the images tone is celebratory, and yet, as her facial expression indicates, somewhat restrained. The caption accompanying the photo expresses similar restraint: We would like to share our love and happiness. We have been blessed two times over. We are incredibly grateful that our family will be growing by two, and we thank you for your well wishes. The Carters

Rococo influences can be seen in both the abundant floral arrangement and the photos overall celebration of love and pleasure. The rococo period began in the late 17th century as a rebellion from the popular baroque style. The aristocratic class commissioned paintings of pastoral scenes with languid lakes, idyllic meadows and joyful children frolicking about. Floral motifs and sinuous shapes abounded, and artists did not shy away from what wouldve been considered scandalous scenes of seduction. Leisure time, in other words, was highly valued, as it demonstrated a familys wealth.

The photo also takes cues from late 15th century Flemish portraiture, when it was popular to depict a subject from a three-quarter angle, often in front of a landscape, and with hands clasped in front. While her hands are certainly not clasped, Beyoncs reassured posture and slight turn of the head to the viewer is remarkably similar to that periods portrait style. And however synthetic its components may be, the surrounding landscape echoes those found in northern European artworks created during the Renaissance period.

In Latin American tradition, particularly in majority Catholic countries, flowers are piled on to graves and used to decorate shrines for loved ones. This image invokes a funerary, which is slightly confusing considering it announces the coming birth of her children. But perhaps Bey is just more in touch with the life cycles life, death, rebirth than us mere mortals. Or maybe its a symbol for her earlier miscarriage, which she called the saddest thing Ive ever been through. While hints of art historical pasts emerge in the details of this shot, we are still left slightly in the dark: why isnt she wearing a ring? Wheres Jay Z? Does it matter?

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