Nefertiti Egypt’s most famous queen was known for her great beauty. “She was the Cleopatra of her time. Just as beautiful, just as wealthy, and just as powerful – if not more powerful,” says Michelle Moran, author of Nefertiti, a popular work of historical fiction.
We can only imagine what she looks like in modern day, Becca Saladin through her love for history has brought historical figures to modern day with her talent in graphic design. Through her Instagram account Royalty_Now_ , Becca transforms famous figures throughout history into modern characters you’d see walking the streets today. Reimagining key historical figures her works include, Queen Elizabeth I, Gengkis Khan, Marie Antoinette and many more.
Unreserved’s interview with Becca Saladin reveals how she’s breathing life back into historical figures to modern day accuracy.
How did you choose your historical figures?
At the beginning I primarily chose figures that I knew of and loved the history of. I’m a big fan of the Tudors and that period of English history, so they were some of my first subjects. Over time I’ve taken a lot of follower suggestions and tried to expand the scope to world-wide figures. Unfortunately I can’t do as many world figures as I would like, as we are missing portraits for many of them or they are captured in a very stylised way. My one wish is that every great figure in history had a realistic portrait I could work from!
Nefertiti was known as a great beauty. How has modern day changed the definition of beauty over time?
I think about beauty standards a lot, particularly because in a lot of portraits there is a certain level of stylisation. For instance in Tudor portraits, women are depicted with small, pinched mouths, very fair skin, and not much facial expression. Of course, they probably were fair-skinned and had rather small mouths, but the way the painter often exaggerates these traits shows a level of trying to adhere to the beauty standards of the time. You can also see it in the way that people from certain periods of history start to kind of blend together and look the same – because all of the portrait painters of their era were applying the same “beautifications” to each portrait. I think you see this a lot today with the “Instagram” look – large lips, very slim nose, thick brows, etc. Everyone kind of starts to look alike. What I actually love about that portrait of Nefertiti is that it is very much different from the other portraits of Egyptian rulers. She and her husband Akhenaten were willing to show themselves in a more naturalistic style and it gave way to the beautiful Amarna period of art in Egypt.
If there was an Asian historical figure besides Sejong The Great and Genghis Khan, which we spotted on your Instagram) you would re-create moving forward, who would it be ?
I’ve had my sights on Qin Shi Huang because a lot of followers have mentioned him to me. I would love to be able to do more asian figures. As I mentioned in the first question – there are a lot of art traditions that are very stylised. If you look at the portraits of Qin Shi Huang, he’s got this really exaggerated facial expression. Portraits like that are very hard to discern what his actual face looked like, and what was painted as kind of an exaggeration to send a certain message through the portrait. This is a big struggle I face when trying to create portraits from cultures that have the stylised art traditions.
We noticed that you re-created Anne of Cleves, whom it was alleged that Henry VIII famously described as “The Mare of Flanders”, which given your recreation, seems grossly unfair, as she looks quite attractive from your depiction, as does the Holbein portrait of her – what’s your thought / opinion on that ?
I think a lot of this story is probably lost to history, but I do believe Anne of Cleves unwittingly offended Henry when they met, and he was put off. I think in order to try and save face and some of his pride, he attacked her and called her ugly, even if it wasn’t true. There are historians that say the Holbein portrait of Anne of Cleves is likely not accurate, or that it’s a beautified image of her, which is likely true to some extent. Unfortunately with what I do, I have to have some sort of likeness to go off of. So I have to work from whatever we have available in terms of a portrait – even if it’s likely not the most accurate.
Which has been your personal favourite reimagination (man and woman) and why ?
I always love the ones that 1) turn out well in terms of looking realistic and 2) look like they really capture the spirit of the figure. I really love my Queen Elizabeth I recreation, because she looks very regal and sophisticated. It’s how I imagine she would like to be shown if she were alive today. I also really love Da Vinci and Hatshepsut for these reasons. When I manage to get both of those things right, those are the images that my audience really responds to and resonates with.
Helen of Troy – the face that Christopher Marlon describes in “Doctor Faustus” – is myth rather than a real historical figure. Despite that, Artists and sculptors alike have tried to depict her over the years. Have you ever thought of what you might do with Helen of Troy?
I haven’t really considered doing Helen of Troy – particularly because of what you said, that she has no likeness. There are a couple of other figures I would love to do that have the same problem, particularly Joan of Arc and Eleanor of Aquitane – both of them are only depicted artistically and there are no confirmed portraits. Still, I think doing all three of those women would be a fun exercise, even if it’s not “accurate”.
Post-Covid, where would you like to showcase your artwork, and how would you describe your collection? Honestly, showcasing at any museum would be an honor. I think “Bringing the Past to Life” would be an excellent way to describe it. That really is my goal. I’m such a fan of history and human stories. And when you can combine those two things and make people feel slightly closer to history, even for a moment, I think it’s really magical.
About the artist
Becca Saladin has a BFA in Graphic Design from Iowa State University, she has over 10 years experience in design. She currently lives in Dallas, Texas with her fiancé and two pups. Since 2018 she’s modernised over 70 portraits of past figures, from ancient history favourites to almost-modern-day figures like Abraham Lincoln. Follow Royalty_ Now on Instagram or visit her website for more information.