Overly Grand Manners: Volker Hermes Exaggerates Historical Portraits with Ostentatious Absurdity

Source Colossal  

“Hidden Pickenoy II” (2023). All images © Volker Hermes, shared with permission

Throughout 17th and 18th centuries, Europe’s upper classes entered an era of unprecedented prosperity due to exploding commerce and trade. The wealthy sought to express their status, and portraiture, which had previously been exclusive to royalty, became the perfect indicator of social rank. In England, these paintings became known as Grand Manner works, and the Dutch school counted well-known names like Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, and Frans Hals among its cohort, still captivating us today at sellout exhibitions. For German artist Volker Hermes, this era of art history provides an endless source of inspiration.

Digital photocollages (previously) playfully reimagine the original sitters in Hermes’ ongoing Hidden Portraits series. Originally depicted by the likes of Dutch painter Nicolaes Pickenoy or French baroque artist Georges de La Tour, the subjects in Hermes’ iterations are overwhelmed by their own garments to the point of absurdity. Brocade masks cover one Elizabethan subject’s eyes, luxuriant robes extend all the way up to foreheads, and lace ruffs engulf the wearers’ faces.

Hermes is drawn to specific characteristics in the original paintings, such as ribbons, which “bring historical images into motion,” he tells Colossal. “At the moment, I’m dealing a lot with Rococo, which is currently getting a lot of attention, after being considered kitsch for a long time.” Depictions of masculinity throughout history have also emerged as a new theme. “I would like to draw attention once again to antiquated forms of masculinity, which actually seemed to be outdated, but are currently becoming—unfortunately—attractive again for many men,” he says.

Through July 8, you can visit Hermes’ solo exhibition Ruff Hood at James Freeman Gallery in London. He will also have work in the group exhibition Rococo Madness! at the National Museum in Wroclaw, Poland, from July 14 through January 14, 2024. Find more on the artist’s website and Instagram.


“Hidden English School” (2023)

“Hidden Catena” (2021)

“Hidden Anonymous (Pourbus IV)” (2021)

“Hidden de la Tour VIII” (2022)

“Hidden Nattier VI” (2023)

“Hidden Anglo-Dutch School” (2023)

“Hidden Pickenoy II” (2023)

“Hidden Singleton Copley VII” (2023)

“Hidden Siriès Cerroti” (2022)

Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. The article Overly Grand Manners: Volker Hermes Exaggerates Historical Portraits with Ostentatious Absurdity appeared first on Colossal.

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