Sunday, May 7, 2023

Art as Promotion in Advertising

I guess there is nothing new in the use of art by advertisers but I have not paid much attention to it. My wife called to my attention that the Consolidated Cigar Corporation produced “Dutch Masters Cigars” with an image of a 1662 painting of the Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild by none other than Rembrandt van Rijn, now in the Rijksmuseum. The image appeared on every box.

As a self promoter in his own time Rembrandt would have probably been delighted seeing it as free advertising for his studio. Today the appropriation of this sort is decried, and artist rights organizations protect against it in the case of modern and contemporary artists.

What made me think about this subject recently was an article from the April 26 edition of The Art Newspaper by James Imam titled “Botticelli’s Venus as ‘Influencer’ in tourism campaign”. I only recently learned what an influencer is in our day and age. We are speaking of the internet and social media, of course. You can be considered an influencer with as few as 1,000 followers if you are in a niche market and there are celebrities with half a million to a million followers although most are in the 10 to 50,000 follower category.

The idea of course, is that these individuals will lead people to the advertiser’s products which in this case is an effort to bring more tourists to Italy. Sandro Botticelli’s, “Birth of Venus”, aka by some as “Venus on the half-shell” which resides in the Uffizi Museum in Florence is our influencer. In these adverts she appears in different forms in various cities including Rome and Venice in front of well-known landmarks: the Coliseum in Rome and the Campanile in Venice. Obviously, she has made the the 245 mile journey from Rome to Venice by bike! Guess what? The purists, art critics and even government officials find this act by the Ministry of Culture and The National Tourist Board to be “humiliating”, according to an article in Artnetnews by Jo-Lawson-Tancred. Every criticism imaginable including the flaws in translations of the text into different languages has been thrown at it in articles, social media etc.

If I were one of those who thought this campaign up, mainly the art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, Under Secretary of the culture ministry, I would be delighted with all the attention this brings to the campaign. Personally, I love it when art can be used in different ways and it may even bring the curious tourist to Florence to see the original!

You might expect see the Mona Lisa in advertising but you would think that the most famous religious Old Master painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” was sacrosanct. Of course, it has been replicated and adapted by artists throughout history. We even own a print of a 2015 photograph by Cara Romero (member of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe) called “The Last Indian Market”. Indian Market is one of the most important events of the year in Santa Fe. Cara has photographed` some of the leading artists of the moment posed in the Coyote CafĂ© one of the city’s best-known restaurants to replicate Leonardo’s composition.

However, some felt that an advertisement by an Irish Casino apparently crossed the line. The reported result was, “Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has been forced to withdraw an advertising campaign featuring Jesus and the apostles gambling at the Last Supper following a deluge of complaints from outraged Christians”. 

There are many more examples and it is heartening, in a sense, that beloved Old Masters can demand great loyalty and their use in advertising can offend to the point of outrage.

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