Miles Aldridge – Homage to Botticelli
03rd March 2023
Miles Aldridge is celebrated for his highly stylised, often surreal, editorial photographs. It is his cinematic narratives and a bold use of colour that are the distinguishing features of his work. Kitsch, Americana and popular culture are all recognisable influences present in Aldridge’s photographs, but in 2005, it was a dreamlike and highly decorative early Renaissance painting that served as inspiration. Shooting for Vogue Italia, Aldridge produced what was to become one of his most recognisable works in collaboration with his long-term muse, model Lily Cole.
Titled ’Like a Painting’, Aldridge directly references Sandro Botticelli’s renowned ‘Primavera’ (c. 1480), one of the most significant paintings in the Western Canon. The painting is understood to be an allegory, indicating the growth of Springtime. It depicts two male figures and six females, including Venus, who takes centre-stage, and Flora, the goddess of Spring. In ‘Like a Painting #1’, Cole embodies Flora with her beaded headband and embroidered dress adorned with butterflies and foliage, while in ‘Like a Painting #3’ Cole is depicted as Venus. Here, she makes direct eye contact with the viewer in a crisp white dress, holding a prized oval locket.
The following year, in 2006, Aldridge returned to the inspiration behind the Vogue editorial, recreating another of Botticelli’s iconic paintings. Taking ‘The Birth of Venus’ (1485) as his point of departure, Aldridge radically crops his composition, removing the surrounding noise of the source material. Once again, Cole stands in for Venus, her auburn ringlets appearing to blow in the wind. The wind, in this retelling, comes from an unknown source – the character of Zephyr remains just out of sight. Cole reenacts Venus’ pose, mirroring her hand gesture, placed delicately on her chest.
Aldridge’s later series, (after Botticelli) , can be seen as a continuation of these initial explorations of the early Renaissance. For this project, Aldridge said, “I approached Numéro Magazine with my idea to shoot an editorial themed around the artist Sandro Botticelli. The idea was for the model to be featured in scenarios that depict Botticelli’s work and become my homage to his paintings… With the entirety of the shoot needing to resemble early Italian Renaissance paintings, the sets were carefully selected to mimic scenery in Italy during the late 15th century.”
Botticelli was famed in 15th-century Italy, but was forgotten for two centuries after his death. He underwent a revival when the Pre-Raphaelites resurrected his work in the 1800s; Nodding to this fact in his commission for Numéro, Aldridge also references a number of iconic Pre-Raphaelite works, such as ‘Ophelia’ by Sir John Everett Millais. Rather than floating down the river, Aldrdige’s model lies in a dream-like bed of flowers with her hair cascading across the grass. The colour palette and composition of this photograph is remarkably similar to Millais’ painting, with splashes of vibrant colour amongst earthy browns and bright greens.
Leaning on this art historical imagery, Aldridge updates these traditional motifs for the contemporary age. He wryly re-examines classical depictions of mythological goddesses by drawing comparisons with today’s celebrity culture.
The ArtistMiles Aldridge was born in London in 1964, to eminent graphic designer Alan Aldridge, and was gifted his father’s Nikon F when he was 10 years old. Aldridge went on to study illustration and graphic design at Central Saint Martin’s College. After graduating, he worked briefly as both an illustrator and music video director – before moving towards photography in the early 1990s.
Aldridge moved to New York where his first commercial work was for American monthly fashion magazine W. His photographs quickly became a regular feature in international publications, including American Vogue, The New Yorker and The New York Times. Aldridge formed a particularly strong artistic partnership with Franca Sozzani, the editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue throughout the 1990s, and produced many of his most memorable and striking images for the magazine. He has worked with numerous fashion designers throughout his career including Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.