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In this fascinating series of works, Hungarian new media artist Bence Hajdu has removed the figures from a series of Old Master paintings with such precision that it’s almost hard to believe. While some compositions, like Jacques-Louis David’s “Oath of the Horatii” (1784) seem perfectly suited to such background reconstruction (see its clean, minimal lines and crisp shadows), others like Claude Lorrain’s “Seaport with the Embarkation of St. Ursula” (1641) seem like a more difficult selection, because of the picky details — in this case, waves and small scattered figures.

Hajdu’s works, which I’ve converted into GIFs (apologies to the artist) to make it clear what a fantastic visual feat the artist has achieved, also highlight the theatricality of the scenes. The pieces, which he has previously exhibited accompanied by smaller versions of the original images (a set up pictured below), have a silence that the original images lack. It is as if the characters have wandered off the stage and we’re left to ponder the world where such drama occurs.

Bence Hajdu with his “abandoned” Old Masters works on display with the original images at the bottom right corner. (images via Bence Hajdu’s Facebook Page)

In some cases, his erasures give a new life to the works, like Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” which seems a natural fit for the process as we’re all familiar with the table clutter of a meal. Somehow it makes the scene appear more human when the frozen figures disappear. I can’t say I had ever pondered the meal Jesus and his disciples shared in Leonardo’s masterpiece but it’s a curious revelation — is it just me or do the disciples on either end appear to be hoarding most of the food? #LOL

Others, like Botticelli’s “The Annunciation” don’t benefit much from the editing, as the sparse interior and idyllic view through the window tell us little if anything about the original scene.

In the case of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation, Hajdu has taken the liberty to leave a scarf behind for where the Virgin Mary was sitting. In this one scene, we’re left to feel that the angel has just left and the Madonna gone inside. And even if the floor shadows are a little bizarre in Hajdu’s rendering, it only helps us to see that the geometric arrangement of the scene in general is quite peculiar in and of itself.

One of the things I keep thinking about as I look at these scenes is how much I’d love to play a video game that wanders through familiar scenes like this. It’s like visiting a childhood home that you see anew after all these many years. The Old Masters don’t disappear, they’re just constantly reinvented.

h/t hypenotice via Zach Alan

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

10 replies on “Abandoned Old Masters Paintings”

  1. Hi. I don’t mind the GIFs. They are pretty cool 🙂 This is one of the best shares of my work so far. Thanks and keep up the good work.
    In the meantime I have uploaded the pics on behance as well.
    bENCE hAJDU

  2. This reminds me of a series of paintings Yue Mingjun (better known for his hysterically laughing pink men) did where he also removed protagonists from well-known paintings. The repertoire extends, naturally, to renowned political images in China. Two sets of comparisons are uploaded below, one taken from a painting commemorating the Founding Ceremony, the other showing the young Mao Zedong on his way to Anyuan. But instead of working directly with digital images, he simply paints the backgrounds. Sometimes he abstracts it a little, as is the case with Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition (http://artobserved.com/artimages/2011/07/Yue-Minjun-The-Deposition-from-the-Cross.jpg). There’s even one overlap with Bence — the Annunciation (first attached image).

  3. Hrag,

    We enjoyed your article and we’re glad you introduced us to the work of Bence Hadju! We’ve linked your post to Slow Art Day’s blog remind our readers to look at art slowly and really take in the details.

    Here’s a link to our post:
    http://www.slowartday.com/a-new-look/

    Thanks!

    – Naomi Kuo, Slow Art Day Blogger/Intern

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