Gibbes Museum leader Angela Mack dissects Pelosi/Trump photo for Vogue

"Table scenes, I guess, can bring people together or tear them apart."

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Angela Mack - PROVIDED
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Last Wednesday, an uncredited White House photographer snapped an instantly iconic photo: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stands in a cabinet-room meeting about Syria, pointing at President Trump from across a table lined almost entirely with white men.

The image went viral, capturing, as the New York Times put it, "the power dynamic between Trump and Nancy Pelosi."

Trump tweeted the photo with the caption, "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown!" Pelosi made the photo her cover image on Twitter.



And while there's a lot to dissect in this image, art historians and museum curators focused on the aesthetics of the photo itself; two days after the photo was taken, Vogue asked four art experts to analyze what they saw.
Vogue writer Michelle Ruiz quickly draws comparisons between the photo and one of the most recognizable paintings in history: "Discourse soon raged about the photo's composition, lighting, and even its likenesses to The Last Supper."

The magazine chatted with two former co-editors of The Tabloid Art History Twitter account as well as art history professor Niki Elder and Charleston's own Angela Mack, chief curator and executive director at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Mack says that what she sees is "not your ordinary table scene." "Most table scenes in art history are viewed as opportunities for people to get together and understand one another, but the Pelosi/Trump photo really represents a very different concept — an adversarial spirit as opposed to a coming-together spirit."

She notes, though, that some historical table scenes are about divisive as the Pelosi/Trump one. In The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, a king's daughter asks for the head of John the Baptist. "So," Mack says, "he’s beheaded and brought before the table setting. Table scenes, I guess, can bring people together or tear them apart."

Read more analyses from the art experts online at vogue.com

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