Beyoncé has introduced her newborn twins to the world, and she did it the same way she announced her pregnancy back in February: with a gorgeous, heavily referential portrait on Instagram.
The portrait — most likely taken by Awol Erizku, the photographer behind the lead images in the pregnancy photo shoot, though that has yet to be confirmed — shows Beyoncé cradling her twins, draped in a flowing robe, standing in front of a floral wreath that looks like the one she was kneeling in front of back in February. It’s an evocative image with a lot to unpack, so let’s look a little closer:
Most of the imagery the new maternity portrait is working with is the same basic toolkit that the pregnancy portrait used, but it’s all been amped up. The blue veil is still heavily reminiscent of Renaissance portraits of the Madonna and child, but the robe ups the resemblance — and now that Rumi and Sir Carter are here, Beyoncé’s pose echoes images of the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus even more strongly.
The references to Botticelli’s Venus have grown stronger too. In the pregnancy photo, the resemblance was subliminal: The flower wreath behind Beyoncé’s head echoed the roses the winds blow towards Venus, the lines of Beyoncé’s veil echoed the lines of Venus’s hair, and the placement of Beyoncé’s hands on her pregnant belly echoed the placement of Venus’s hands framing her genitalia.
But in her maternity photo, Beyoncé is standing in Venus’s very pose, one leg slightly lifted as if she’s about to step forward out of the portrait. And her floral silk robe is strikingly similar to the floral silk mantle that a nymph is about to drape over Botticelli’s Venus.
Everything that was promised in the pregnancy portrait is realized in the maternity portrait. Before, Beyoncé was suggesting Venus and Mary; now she’s taking on their literal poses. Before, the colors were saturated and the light was subdued, suggesting an expectant, waiting atmosphere; now the light gleams brilliantly off Beyoncé and her babies: The waiting is over and the twins are here.
Beyoncé’s choice of imagery isn’t accidental: She’s essentially deconstructing the Madonna/whore complex through her own person. The Virgin Mary traditionally stands for maternity, purity, and chastity, while Venus stands for erotic beauty and sex. In the West, we’re obsessed with keeping those two ideas separate, but Beyoncé won’t allow it. She is mother and saint and goddess of beauty and sex, all at once, and she’s doing it as a woman of color, too. That’s the kind of masterful manipulation of imagery that makes Beyoncé one of our most iconic stars.