The artworks are curated from museums, galleries, and private collections, including the Uffizi in Florence, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Reims. Gucci Places collaborators have also contributed art, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which recently featured in the #TimetoParr campaign, and Chatsworth House, where Gucci supports exhibitions.
presents a view of beauty ranging from vital, lifelike Egyptian portraits made 2000 years ago to popular Japanese woodblock prints representing femininity and contemporary African-American painters reimagining the canon of art history. For the Instagram account debut, art writers recount the stories behind the selected artworks.
Art is the way humanity documents itself. Through this group of works, we can see how artists view not just their subjects, but their societies and civilizations. Each painting freezes a particular moment between people. Sometimes this is literal — they might be in the same small studio space. In other pieces, the encounter is imagined, as in the case of religious or historical subjects. One such portrait is an image of the Muslim empress Nur Jahan, in the collection of LACMA, who is depicted glittering with red and green jewels looking calmly forward.
Beauty represents an ideal of each place and era, a style that the artist felt was worth preserving. Sometimes it meant high hairlines and high collars, like Elizabethan England, but it can also be native woman’s simple blouse from a 1876 portrait by painter Felipe Santiago Gutierrez, one of the first international Mexican artists.
In every portrait there is a gaze between an artist and their subject. The male gaze can be a way of consuming or controlling its target, presenting women with unreachable expectations imposed by society. “A woman must continually watch herself,” John Berger wrote in Ways of Seeing. “From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.” The self-portraits of female artists are particularly potent, showing how these women see themselves as powerful creators in their own right.
Beauty evolves over time and moves across cultures. Colonialism and globalization have meant political encounters between different standards of beauty as people adopt ideas from each other. A lithograph print from a French artist depicts Njinga Mbande, a 17th-century Angolan queen, in the visual language of the British aristocracy, though her clothes are African. Looked at one way, it’s an image of the exotic other, but it’s also an artifact of early African influence on Western style: Mbande is beautifully self-confident.
Representation keeps evolving as the full breadth of art history becomes clear. Through this collection it’s possible to observe how beauty has no one strict definition but is instead an exchange of seeing and being seen.
The Instagram captions are contributed by a group of art writers with different perspectives: critics, journalists, and artists. The group includes Tatiana Berg, Britt Julious, Larissa Pham, and Antwaun Sargent, edited by Kyle Chayka.