Pop Culture Moments of 2023: A Modern Renaissance

Exploring the Artistic Allure of Contemporary Media Events

In the age of social media and viral trends, it’s not uncommon for pop culture moments to capture our attention and imagination. However, some of these moments have an uncanny resemblance to Renaissance paintings, evoking a sense of visual density, drama, and complexity. As we reflect on the year 2023, we can’t help but draw parallels between significant media events and iconic artworks from the past. From Rihanna’s pregnant Super Bowl performance to Kylie Jenner’s lion-inspired couture, here are five images that brought art history to mind.

A Pregnant Rihanna at the Super Bowl:

Rihanna’s headline performance at the Super Bowl in February created a buzz, with speculations about her pregnancy. Clad in a daring outfit, Rihanna’s baby bump became evident to the record-breaking 121 million viewers. In this moment, she resembled the central figure of Mary in the Master of the Saint Lucy Legend’s “Mary, Queen of Heaven” (1485/1500) from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Surrounded by performers in white and floating on a platform, Rihanna exuded a regal aura reminiscent of Renaissance paintings.

The Kens Go to War:

The summer blockbuster movie “Barbie,” directed by Greta Gerwig, featured meticulously composed scenes with an array of Barbies and Kens. Among these scenes, the Malibu Beach Ken Battle stood out, reminding us of Andrea Mantegna’s engraving “A Battle of the Sea Gods” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Though missing the allegorical figure of Envy, this all-male Barbie battle captured the spirit of Mantegna’s artwork and highlighted the movie’s artistic references.

A House in Chaos:

The U.S. Congress has been plagued by chaos and gridlock throughout the year, resulting in dramatic photos that drew comparisons to art. Representative Matt Gaetz’s dramatic gesture in one such photo bears a striking resemblance to the main figure in George Caleb Bingham’s “Stump Speaking” at the Saint Louis Museum Art Museum. While the present-day House may be more chaotic than Bingham’s depiction of small-town politics, representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez finds her parallel among the bemused onlookers in Bingham’s scene.

Beyoncé’s (ahem) Renaissance World Tour:

Queen Bey’s Renaissance World Tour was a cultural event that naturally evoked comparisons to Renaissance paintings. Known for her art appreciation, Beyoncé’s highest-grossing tour featured sculptures, robotic technology, and elaborate costumes. One standout moment was her appearance on a mirror-ball horse, reminiscent of the cover of Renaissance itself. Art critics speculated whether her inspiration could have been John Collier’s famous Lady Godiva, leaving the interpretation open to the audience.

Kylie Jenner Channels Hercules?:

Kylie Jenner’s fashion choices have always made headlines, and her appearance at Schiaparelli’s couture runway show at Paris Fashion Week was no exception. Wearing a life-size faux lion head as an adornment, Jenner’s outfit from the label’s Spring-Summer collection drew comparisons to Francisco de Zurbarán’s depiction of Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion. The controversial look sparked discussions about trophy hunting, with even animal rights supporters finding different interpretations.


As we delve into the world of pop culture, it becomes apparent that art and media are deeply intertwined. The images and moments that capture our attention often echo the visual language of Renaissance paintings, creating a bridge between the past and the present. Whether it’s Rihanna’s regal presence, Barbie’s epic battles, or Beyoncé’s artistic flair, these pop culture moments remind us that art is not confined to galleries and museums—it is everywhere, waiting to be discovered and appreciated. So the next time you find yourself captivated by a viral moment, take a closer look and see if you can spot the Renaissance connection.






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