Celeb Selfie Art No. 1: North West + an Actual Princess
Top: Kim Kardashian, North West, and Kanye West in 2014. Bottom: Diego Velázquez, Detail from "Las Meninas," 1656
A child, born into unimaginable wealth and fame, surrounded by people who gaze adoringly at her, has her image captured for posterity—we're talking about both North West, daughter of Kimye, and Infanta Margarita Teresa, daughter of King Philip IV of Spain, of course. The similarities don't stop there.
Both images are visual paradoxes, completed works of art that depict works in progress. Just as we can see the artist Velázquez painting "Las Meninas" within "Las Meninas," we also see Kanye taking a photo of Kim taking a selfie in this photo of Kim taking a selfie. Like North, Margarita Teresa's parents are also present, reflected in the mirror just above the princess's head. In Kanye's case, he takes on the roles of both Velasquez and King Philip IV—he's an artist depicting a scene and a father observing it, all at once. Those dual roles are often reflected in his music.
No. 2: Kendrick Lamar + a Modernist Master
Left: Kendrick Lamar in 2016. Right: William H. Johnson, "Self-Portrait With a Pipe," 1937
Kendrick Lamar and William H. Johnson choose different mediums to depict themselves—one through a photo used in a 2016 Calvin Klein ad, the other a painted self-portrait. But both men hold their artistic tools (i.e., camera, paintbrush) against their torsos, a declaration of themselves as artists in control of how they are shown to the world. Lamar's use of a mirror allows the viewer to see his surroundings—the mouthwash, the bottles, and the glass—giving us a glimpse into his grooming ritual.
No. 3: Rihanna + Another Resplendent Queen
Left: Rihanna listening to "ANTI" in 2016. Right: A mosaic of Byzantine Empress Theodora, 6th century CE
On January 25, 2016, Rihanna tweeted a photo of herself with the words "Listening to ANTI"—perhaps her most iconic selfie. Wearing crown shaped headphones, the singer presents herself as the empress of hip hop, celebrating her own professional and creative achievements by listening to her eighth studio album.
She's not unlike 6th-century Byzantine Empress Theodora, herself a striking beauty. Theodora wears a heavy crown and luxurious jewels falling to her shoulders—her portrait is one of imposing luxury created as both a symbol of the empress's power and authority, as well as a warning to her opponents. Rihanna appears a modern-day Theodora in her selfie, a woman of power at the height of her career, wearing the gold crown to prove it.
No. 4: Rowan Blanchard + a Photography Pioneer
Left: Rowan Blanchard in 2016. Right: Ilse Bing, "Self-Portrait," 1931
Rowan Blanchard's selfie in a bathroom mirror while wearing Rodarte (one of her favorite designers) and Ilse Bing's self-portrait in a mirror raise similar questions of intent and purpose. Were they bored? Feeling their OOTD? Commemorating the memory of a great night? Testing a new camera? Adjusting settings?
"Vanity was for centuries personified as a woman looking in a mirror," says art historian Frances Borzello. But this was complicated when the camera appeared, and when women turned it on themselves. Blanchard and Bing may just be playing with their cameras and their fragmented reflections, but this playfulness is at the heart of self-appreciation and the origin story of many a selfie—but the mystery remains whole for men looking at women enjoying themselves when everything tells them not to.
No. 5: David Bowie + Something Equally Strange
Left: David Bowie breaks the fourth wall in "The Man Who Fell to Earth," 1976. Right: Francis Bacon, "Portrait of Michel Leiris," 1976
David Bowie always had control over his own image, changing styles, personas, and career paths, never afraid to play with convention. Both Bowie and Francis Bacon experimented with self-expression, refusing to conform to rigid views of masculinity. The story of The Man Who Fell to Earth could be seen as an analogy for the search of self. In Bacon's portrait of celebrated french surrealist writer Michel Leiris, the painter uses a muted colour palette and warped, abstracted imagery, very much mirroring the inner turmoil of the artist himself.
Elise Bell, Chloe Esslemont, and Mayanne Soret are the clever, art-obsessed minds behind the Tabloid Art History (@TabloidArtHist) Twitter account, which pairs celebrity images with uncannily similar masterpieces.