Inside Beyoncé and JAY-Z's 'Apes—': A Guide to All the Art in the Epic Music Video
Along with a new nine-track album Everything Is Love, the couple dropped a new video this weekend. From its opening on a faux gargoyle to the slow reveal of Bey and Jay in front of the Mona Lisa, the Carter’s “Apes—” visuals are a tour de force.
The Ricky Saiz-directed video is also a tour de Louvre, showing off some of the museum’s beautiful locations and priceless works. Shot in two consecutive nights during their time in Paris for tour rehearsals in May, it’s a work of art involving several dozen masterpieces.
Here’s a culture lover’s guide to all of the fine art references in the video.
After a few teasing intro shots, including the gargoyle dancer in the Cour Napoleon and a brief glimpse of Delacroix’s Apollo Slays Python, music’s most famous couple appear in a slow tracking reveal in front of the world’s most enigmatic smile.
The Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde) was painted by Leonardo Di Vinci in the early 14th century. It’s not known precisely when the Louvre’s example was painted, but the museum’s copy is the best known of several versions. Interestingly, the model for the iconic image may have actually been a man posing! The hallmark of the museum, the painting went missing in 1911 for two years after it was stolen by an employee.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Sphinx
The video features a series of shots showing the couple seated in front of the museum’s celebrated Grande Galerie. The Winged Victory of Samothrace statue sits midway in its main stairwell, as does and the Sphinx (circa 2000 BC) — whose crypt guards the museum’s collection of Egyptology.
The Coronation of Napoleon and the work of Jacques-Louis David
Bey and Jay clearly have a thing for French neo-classicists. Their dancers work out in front of Jacques-Louis David’s epic Coronation of Napoleon (painted 1806-1807) and another painting by the master, The Intervention of the Sabine Women, also makes an appearance.
David’s celebrated portrait of Madame Récamier, a banker’s wife commissioned in 1800 can be seen (at 2:15) as well.
Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appraised by Dante and Virgil
At 2:37, the Louvre’s version of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta Appraised by Dante and Virgil, created by Dutch romantic painter Ary Scheffer, is seen in striking detail. The example is one of five known versions known to exist in the world — if you can’t make Paris, London or Hamburg, you can appreciate it in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
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Raft of the Medusa
JAY-Z steps briefly in front of Théodore Géricault’s extraordinary Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819) a painting based on the true events of a shipwreck involving sharks and cannibalism. By “sampling” earlier works of John Singleton Copley and Francisco Goya, Géricault — who researched the work by interviewing survivors — created one of the earliest known “social media” events, showing the work in Paris and London while newspaper accounts of the tragedy were fresh in the public mind. The artist’s earlier 1812 painting The Charging Officer turns up at 3:23.
The Venus de Milo
Moving outside for courtyard shots in front of architect I.M. Pei’s brilliant pyramid structure, which has been the museum’s main entrance since 1989, we’re treated to the couple before the Venus de Milo. Uncovered by a farmer on the Greek island of Milos in 1820 and scurried back to France by a marine officer, she is rather modestly posed on a low pedestal down a stairwell.
Portrait d’une Femme Noire
Following a flash of Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana, the clip comes to its most arresting image and perhaps, most significant reference: Portrait d’une Femme Noire (Portrait of a Black Woman). First shown at the Salon of 1800, it’s a striking work, quietly beautiful and hypnotic. It showcases extreme simplicity by an acknowledged master of the period — Marie-Guillemine Benoist, a woman.