Kanye West’s ‘Power’ Video: A Cultural Cheat Sheet

Clip pays homage to Renaissance painting, M.C. Escher, 'House Of Flying Daggers.'

Most music videos aim to overwhelm you with quick cuts, big explosions, clever editing tricks and flashy sets that look really expensive.

Then there’s Kanye West’s clip for “Power.” Never one to follow trends — peep how he’s already reinvented the art of tweeting in just a week — West’s 90-second clip is less a video and more a moving painting in which a grim-faced ‘Ye stands center stage while a galaxy of saintly and devilish female figures surround him.

Director Marco Brambilla said his intention was to create a video “portrait” that would “visualize power … to do a portrait of what power would look like in a sort of timeless way.”

We spent way too much time studying what feels like a trailer for a larger piece of conceptual art and broke down the imagery in the video. If it’s been a while since your last art history class, get ready to go to school:

Dragonlance: An image of a sword descending into a crown hovers over Kanye’s head, bringing to mind Volume Two of Douglas Niles’ series “The Crown and the Sword: The Rise of Solamnia,” in which Sir Jaymes Markham commands the orders of the Rose, Sword and Crown.

M.C. Escher’s “Waterfall”: The Dutch artist famous for making eye-popping images in which gravity and space were twisted into pretzels sketched an image in 1961 in which the water at the base of a waterfall appears to be flowing uphill against gravity before reaching the top of the fall, much as the water pours towards the sky out of two urns held by maidens in the Kanye clip.

Chiaroscuro: The monochromatic clip plays with this Renaissance style of painting, in which the artist used sharp contrasts between light and dark to highlight the drama on the canvas. Often, unseen sources of light would illuminate the subjects; in the clip, Kanye appears to have an inner glow that manifests in his eyes and the sword and crown above him cast a light on the entire scene.

Jean-Leon Gerome: The href="http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/463-3115" target="_blank">French painter known for his love of historical painting with Greek mythological themes created an image titled “Head of a Woman with the Horns of a Ram,” which is not unlike the albino-like female figures sprouting long, pointy horns who frame ‘Ye.

“House of Flying Daggers”: Though he’s transposed the action from China to ancient Greece, Brambilla might be paying homage to the 2004 action-romance href="http://www.mtv.com/movies/movie/246976/moviemain.jhtml">“House of Flying Daggers” with the scene at the end of the video, in which two combatants are flying through the air in mid-sword fight as white bursts of light fill the screen.

Ed Moses’ “HOLA”: This href="http://articles.sfgate.com/2006-07-15/entertainment/17301904_1_paintings-kooning-s-work-moses-works">2006
painting by the Southern California artist features a haunting single eye glowing behind a swirl of heavy brush marks that some have compared to the mask of a superhero. In “Power,” Kanye’s eyes have an eerie glow as he stares unblinkingly, also not unlike actor Idris Elba’s Heimdall in the upcoming movie “Thor.”

Michelangelo: From the rows of Ionic columns surrounding him to the floating parade of gauzy-shift wearing Greek men and women who drift into the frame, Brambilla is clearly taking some inspiration from the target="_blank">classic frescoes painted by Italian Renaissance painter and architect Michelangelo.

Q-Tip: The legendary rapper and member of A Tribe Called Quest released an album called The Renaissance in 2008. He said the reference to that period was more than just an album title and a sign of his unwavering commitment to keeping his art pure.

Ancient Egypt: Yeezy once again rocks the unbelievably fat chain he wore at the BET Awards earlier this year. Its giant pendant is an image of Horus — the Egyptian god of the sky, war and protection.

What images do you see in Kanye’s “Power” video? Let us know by below.

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