CLASSIC PAINTINGS ARE GIVEN A MODERN MAKE-OVER
WITH REAL WOMEN BARING ALL FOR ART
Over the past 20 years, Italy-based British photographer Patrick Nicholas has been reinterpreting classic paintings with the help of volunteers. It’s not for charity, the women haven’t been paid and they’re not models or actresses. Rather, they’re regular Italian women (though one is an Aussie of Italian descent, madison contributor Katia Sanfilippo), who have been willing to bare all for art. Each picture is a take on a world-famous painting, in styles ranging from pre-Raphaelite to art deco. How is it ‘a take’ ? They have been ingeniously updated. For example, Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque is now equipped with a telephone.
The project began in 1989 when Nicholas created a postcard that was his interpretation of La Grande Odalisque. Years later, his colleague, writer Nicholas Farrell, was convinced the concept had greater potential and proposed a series of posters for the Italian newspaper La Voce di Romagna. “But would I be able to persuade my paper to accept it,” says Farrell, “and its readers to pose for it?”
Yes, on both counts. To find the women, a full-page advert ran in the paper in December 2004 and the following January the paper ran Nicholas’ take on The Birth of Venus by Botticelli with a friend of a friend posing as Venus. After that, the volunteers emerged. Farrell believes it was the Italian love of beauty that inspired the women. “An ugly chair isn’t an effective chair. If something is not bella it is not simply ugly, it is also wrong,” he says. The project continues today.
THE READING GIRL
by Théodore Roussel (c1886)
“I liked the original’s simplicity,” says the photographer Patrick Nicholas, “its sense of calm. The idea for my photo was also influenced by the courageous nurse in the film The English Patient.”
The volunteer, Katia Sanfilippo, was “so like the girl in the Russel that I didn’t want to throw away the opportunity.” explains Nicholas “It wasn’t until a week before the sitting that i suggested we try the Russel. She was hesitant at first, because it required her to be naked, but soon agreed.”
The photograph is named Correspondent.
THE BIRTH OF VENUS
by Sandro Botticelli (c1483)
To show potential volunteers that this wasn’t a vulgar project, it was decided that a recreation of The Birth of Venus would be published in an Italian newspaper, as an example.
“Patrick told friends he needed a girl to pose as Venus,” says writer and collaborator, Nicholas Farrell, “and as a result, he met an extraordinary lookalike.” This was Rosario Russo, 28, an economics student, “Patrick asked each woman to bring an object that speaks of them in some way. Rosario’s choice was unusual: she pulled up her shirt to show a scar running along her stomach.”
The photograph is called Bernarda.
LA GRANDE ODALISQUE
by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1814)
Cinzia Pironi, 43, a school administrator and mother of two, didn’t tell her husband, Antonio, the managing director of an Italian factory, nor her boss, that she had decided to pose nude as an oriental concubine.
Asked why she had agreed to strip, she replied: “I’ve always had this desire to show myself off, to exhibit myself. I wanted to surprise everyone. It’s a work of art, after all – not Playboy.”
The photograph is called Fascisca.
by Giorgione (likely added to by Titian) (c1505-10)
“This was one of the paintings I had to do,” says Nicholas, “but where was I to find my own Venus?
Quite by chance I met Arianna Annarella, a lawyer from San Marino. Not only did she have the right face and figure, she was also a keen cyclist. The landscape is Arianna’s own San Marino.”
The day before this shot was shown in Italy, Arianna, 29, rang Farrell to beg that the picture not be published. “But I talked her round,” says Farrell.
The photograph is named Venus of the Shards.
De Lempicka used a Parisian prostitute as her model for one of the 20th century’s most sensual paintings.
Nearly 80 years on, Nicholas and Farrell needed to find the right model to flesh out their reinterpretation. “We convinced a 44-year-old divorced teacher to pose for us.” says Farrell “It so happened that the woman adored the original work – but she agonised over whether to make her name public.” She opted for anonymity.
The photograph is named Bella Ginnasta.
VENUS AT HER MIRROR
by Diego Velazquez (1648)
Vanessa Aglieri-Rinella, 23, modelled for this recreation of the Spanish masterpiece.
“Vanessa is a waitress in her parents’ restaurant,” says Farrell. Her mother was more keen on the idea of Vanessa posing than her father, who simply says, “What can you do? She’s over 18”.
In fact her mother actually bet Vanessa €10 she would be snapped up for the project. “She has that classical figure di una volta (of once upon a time),” explains Graziella.
The photograph is named You Tube.
by Félicien Rops (1878)
Grabriella Gatteli, 45, a hospital cook, posed for this version of a symbolist painting to irritate her husband.
“He says I’m fat!” explained the mother of two. “It would have been intriguing,” says Farrell, “to have her holding a pig on a lead, as in the original. But we did not feel up to coping with such a beast on set.
Gabriella came up with the brilliant idea of using a cockerel instead – the fowl is a nickname for the macho men in the area Gabriella is from.”
The photograph is called Galet.