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The Hidden Portraits of Volker Hermes

Ten years in the making, Hidden Portraits reinterprets historical paintings through a modern lens. Using only elements from the original work, contemporary artist Volker Hermes visually manipulates famous Old Masters portraits, exploring expression when the face is obscured. By blocking the emotions expressed by the face, Hermes invites viewers to observe ancient codes of fashion as symbols of self-representation and social status. Then, with a contemporary perspective, great respect, and a dash of humor, Hermes layers the codes of our times over the codes of ancient times.

Hidden Larkin II, Photocollage 2021 by Volker Hermes
Hidden Pourbus, Photocollage 2017 by Volker Hermes

Hermes chooses paintings from the Renaissance, Baroque, or Biedermeier periods, when paintings were purely commissioned works, had to meet rigorous criteria — power, representation, etc. — and were extended arms of the ruling elite. Flowers, fabrics, jewels, hairstyles — every little detail from posture to the sitter’s gaze had a symbolic meaning and served a purpose, namely that of representation.

When Hermes creates a fluffy hat out of the ruff that symbolizes wealth, he exposes exaggerated privilege in the relations of power. Long-curled wigs, the trademark of European rulers, are duplicated curl for curl until they look so grandiose that the faces of the powerful vanish behind them. Expensive garments made from brocade and silk are refashioned into masks reminiscent of the S&M scene. Faces are veiled and people disappear behind their stately accessories.

Hidden Wyczółkowski, Photocollage 2021 by Volker Hermes
Hidden Mengs, Photocollage 2020 by Volker Hermes

People often think that Volkers ‘interventions’ as he lovingly calls them, are original paintings. An interviewer once commented, “Knowing art history quite well, I asked myself how have I never seen this portrait before? In which museum is it exhibited? … Your manipulations are realistic to a fault.”

Hermes in his studio in Düsseldorf, Germany | photo by Franz Schuier

It was late in 2019 when international hype materialized around the Hidden Portraits Hermes had been creating for over 10 years (though he had just begun to share them with the world on Instagram). Their visual content — figures disappearing behind masks — perfectly and almost clairvoyantly directly reflect the current era. Anyone who googles Volker Hermes will quickly surmise that the entire world has featured the Hidden Portraits over the last few years. International exhibitions, collaboration, and commission requests have followed. Today, Hermes has been featured in Vogue multiple times, collaborated with Christie’s, and been invited by museums to create works from pieces in their collections.

At the time this article was written, Hermes is in the process of releasing his first Hidden Portraits NFT Collection on Super Rare.

Learn more about the collection at:

All Volker Hermes quotes used in this article were sourced from previous press interviews. They have been compiled here to form a cohesive story about the Hidden Portraits Collection.



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