Dutch Master portraiture from the 17th-Century gets a mind-blowing contemporary makeover in a new series by artist Michael Mapes. Instead of paint, Mapes uses tiny physical objects like glass vials, insect pins, gelatin capsules, printed photographs, and even human hair to assemble insanely detailed recreations of famous works by the likes of Rembrandt and Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy. Imagine if painter Chuck Close was a history nerd with OCD, and this would be the fantastical result.
“I dissect photos of Dutch Master portraits into individual parts, then consider meaningful ways to reconstruct the parts to suggest new ways to perceive the subject,” Mapes tells Co.Design. These pieces are physically assembled as opposed to painted or digitally collaged, giving the work a sculptural, three-dimensional texture that appears pixellated.
Museums like Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum offer copyright free, high-res scans of much of their Dutch Masters collection. Mapes chooses an image from these archives, then gathers information about the painting’s aristocratic subject in an effort to understand who they were. He also collects photos of paintings of spouses and family members, as well as tourist’s photos of the original paintings. “I refer to this as ‘biographical DNA,’” Mapes says.
He then takes new photographs of contemporary women, collects makeup samples, costume jewelry, hair samples, and fingerprints, all of which could end up in the final amalgamated portrait. This hodgepodge of materials is color sorted and assembled into an intricately textured 21st-century take on the original portrait. Details reveal that a female subject’s lapel might be assembled from tiny images of her face, or her cheek might be composed of photographs of three little noses, while her noble ruff is made from pearly bunches of pushpins. Mapes’ final works are ultra-meta clusters of art historical references, but they’re also just plain cool to look at.
Three of the pieces will be part of an exhibit called “Face to Face” at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Montana.