Every major piece of art featured in Beyoncé and Jay Z's Apesh*t video
From the Mona Lisa to Raft of the Medusa, what every piece is — and why it's there
Beyoncé and Jay Z surprised fans this weekend by releasing their joint album, Everything is Love. Along with the album, the pair released a video for the single Apesh*t, which, even for artists who continue to defy conventions and set new rules for the music industry, is the ultimate flex.
In the highly stylized video, directed by Ricky Saiz, the power couple are depicted posing around the empty halls of the Louvre in Paris, which houses some of the most famous artworks in the world. It's relatively rare for the Louvre to give anyone this type of access, but, as they said in a statement provided to Vulture, it just made sense.
"Beyoncé and JAY-Z visited the Louvre four times in the last 10 years," the statement said. "During their last visit in May 2018, they explained their idea of filming. The deadlines were very tight but the Louvre was quickly convinced because the synopsis showed a real attachment to the museum and its beloved artworks."
As you'll see, the video is really just as much about Jay Z and Beyoncé as it is about the artworks, which were meticulously selected to appear. Nothing, it would seem, appears by happenstance, with each work's themes being carefully curated to match the themes on Everything is Love: betrayal, strife, forgiveness, defiance and love.
Below, we break down some of the work prominently displayed.
Galerie d'Apollon (1661)
The video begins with the ceilings in the Galerie d'Apollon, which was painted by the artists of the Second School of Fontainebleau. The gallery was first constructed in 1661 and is recognized as a world heritage site.
Mona Lisa (1503-1506)
The next shot is one everyone should recognize. Beyoncé and Jay Z standing, in pastel suits, in front of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world. More than six million people visit the Mona Lisa each year, and as anyone who has seen it before can attest, it is virtually impossible to get a photo of you in front of it without being unintentionally photobombed by the crowd of people trying to do the same. That makes the mere act of posing in front of the painting, and not even looking at it (they don't turn to face it until the very end of the video), one of the biggest flexes of the entire video.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BC)
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called The Nike of Samothrace, is one of the most famous statues in the world. It's also one of the rare original statues from the Greek Hellenistic period. Also notable: it acted as inspiration for the Nike swoosh, which follows the upper line of the statue's wing span.
Oath of the Horatii, (1784)
This large scale painting by Jacques-Louis David shows the Roman legend of the cities of Rome and Alba Longa, who, in order to avoid a large-scale war, each sent three soldiers to fight on their behalf. It was used in France as a symbol of patriotism and sacrifice to one's country, and became one of the defining images of the French Revolution.
The Great Sphinx of Tanis (2600 B.C.)
This is one of the largest Sphinxes you can find outside of Egypt. This particular Sphinx is inscribed with the pharaohs Ammenemes II (12th Dynasty, 1929-1895 BC), Merneptah (19th Dynasty, 1212-02 BC) and Shoshenq I (22nd Dynasty, 945-24 BC).
The Coronation of Napoleon (1805)
This large scale painting is 10 metres wide by more than six metres tall, and was commissioned by Napoleon in 1804. Its official title matches the scale of the piece: Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804. Artist Jacques-Louis David began working on it in 1805, and it was exhibited in 1808. The significance of showing this particular work, however, is in the details. The painting shows the moment where Empress Josephine, not Napoleon, is being crowned, and we see the painting as Beyoncé and a line of women, hands joined, dance in front of it. It leaves little doubt that Queen Bey is the one calling the shots here.
The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799)
The next work to get a prominent closeup is another one by David — The Intervention of the Sabine Women, which depicts a moment following the abduction of the Sabine women by Roman soldiers. In the centre of the canvas, amidst the plunder and chaos, Hersilia, shown in white, stands defiantly against Romulus, her husband, as he readies to throw his spear at the retreating Titus Tatius, leader of the Sabines and Hersilia's father. David painted the piece in honour of his wife, with the main theme being that love prevails over conflict; also a main theme to the Carters' Everything is Love.
Portrait of Madame Récamier (1800)
Yet another work by David, this is a portrait of Parisian socialite and influential patron of the arts Juliette Récamier, whose salons attracted the leading artists and political figures of their time.
As @itsmeheidi_h points out on Twitter, the women in front of the painting also resemble Marie-Guillemine Benoist's Portrait d'une Négresse. That work was also painted in 1800, following the emancipation decree of 1794 which freed slaves in French colonies and abolished slavery. In 1802, slavery was reinstated by Napoléon. The work, which reappears at the very end of the video, was also one of the earliest and only examples of a black woman as art, a point of concern Jay Z has pointed out before. As Jay rapped in 2011, "But why all the pretty icons always all white? Put some colored girls in the MoMA."
13) Benoist’s Portrait of a Black Woman is one of the only portraits of black women in the history of Western art until the 20th century or so. It was completed by a female artist, possibly in support of the abolition movement. Now we have a female creator + black independence. <a href="https://t.co/QB9c09y2W2">pic.twitter.com/QB9c09y2W2</a>—@itsmeheidi_h
Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta appraised by Dante and Virgil (1835)
This work by Ary Scheffer depicts a scene from Dante's Inferno, but not just any scene. In it, Dante and Virgil can be seen watching Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in hell. The reason they're in hell? Infidelity. The pair fell in love and carried on affair, despite both being married. Upon finding out, Francesca's husband, who also happened to be Paolo's brother, murdered them.
The Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819)
Théodore Géricault's Raft of the Medusa depicts the wreck of the French naval frigate Méduse off the coast of Mauritania in 1816, in which, of 147 people, only 15 survived. The Méduse was bound for the Senegalese port of Saint-Louis, where they were headed to accept the British government's return of Senegal to France as a colony.
Jay Z and Beyoncé have also drawn from another piece of Senegalese history, releasing a tour video that draws in the 1973 film Touki Bouki, directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty.
The Charging Chasseur (1812)
This painting by French artist Théodore Géricault depicts a Napoleonic cavalry officer who, at first, seems at the ready to attack, but on further inspection represents a portrait of fear, and possibly retreat — a lone soldier on the battlefield, looking behind with anxiety on his face, and painted at a time when Napoleon's colonial ambitions were under threat. This is juxtaposed in the Apesh*t video in the very next scene, which depicts a black man standing erect, confident and defiant on top of a horse.
Aphrodite, aka Venus de Milo (130-100 BC)
This ancient Greek statue is arguably one of the most famous statue in the world, certainly the most famous work of ancient Greek sculpture. Aphrodite is, of course, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.