Instagram 500 Years Ago


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that everybody employs iconography as a main conveyor of  their messages because there practically exists not one more instantaneous a way to make something known – which might sound pretentious and abstract but actually relates to most pragmatic, everyday stuff. Think Instagram.

Consider how it works.

By gathering those scraps of their lives allegedly relevant for who they are or seek to be, and assembling them into a collage on that instagram profile  filled with selfies, snapshots of Starbucks cups, fancy meals and humongous ‘happy-birthday’ bouquets, people manipulate contemporary imagery to create a certain, wordless impression of themselves. Though mainly unconsciously done, there really is no swifter alternative to reveal information about oneself to virtually any viewer, which, given the prominence of Facebook and such sites, has grown to become an almost vital part of social interaction. As, indeed, has always been – only never on so large a scale.

Ask Caesar.

Portraits serving this very purpose date back to antiquity and would’ve used an iconology not much unlike ours today, based on objects easily associated with various important values (the purple toga? our designer clothes?). Yet it was not until the 16th century that a type of art I personally think sowed the seeds for the Instagram in question began to emerge: the genre scene. And along with it, the still life.

Now, I’ve always considered still lives the quintessence of boredom as regards subject-matter in art.

The singular product of a secular northern society whose attention became increasingly engaged by the quotidian, these rigorous depictions of wineglasses, rich plates, fruit arrangements or flower vases never moved me in the slightest.

Not that many things do.

Brueghel at the museum

But after, as a volunteer and temporary guide at the National Museum of Art, I introduced several hoards of young students to the Brueghel bouquet opposite, the challenge to make interesting for a philistine cub what had failed to attract even me ultimately altered my initial prejudice. And thus compelled to draw parallelisms between our age and the Flemish master’s to keep their attention, I uncovered multiple ideas rooted in common ground with the 21st century social networking… some accessed during my tours.

Because, in the end, Brueghel‘s patrons shared quite the same aims with the average Instagram ‘consumer’ today, more conscientiously, surely, yet still focused on the kind of iconography that would construct their desired image. Each flower possessed a symbolical meaning bearing to mind wealth, power or status, like the rose, the lily and tulip especially. Tulip which, between brackets, once exceeded the price of a house

So it just seems to me there’s a strikingly similar mechanism leading to us taking photos and them ordering a Velvet Brueghel.

What do you think?


Patricia Beykrat – the Roving Aesthete


7 responses to “Instagram 500 Years Ago

  1. I can appreciate still life art from an aesthetic view. I subscribe to “International Artist” and marvel at how many realist painters capture color, light and shadow with such extraordinary precision that you feel you’re looking at a photograph.

  2. the artists of those times capture a peculiar, almost eerie kind of glow. like a filter. Like their eyes have filters turned on when painting. I like your article… your word choice is elegant.

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