What if art history’s greatest masterpieces were, well, empty?
In José Manuel Ballester’s series “Concealed Spaces,” he has created replicas of some of the world’s most famous artworks, exactly as you remember them—except all the people are gone.
Today, many of the world’s most famous gathering places are eerily empty as governments around the world ask their citizens to stay home. Ballester’s work seems tailor-made for the time.
The artist, who began the series in 2006, uses Photoshop to seamlessly edit well-known masterpieces such as (1498) by Leonardo da Vinci, by Théodore Géricault (1819), (circa 1486) by Sandro Botticelli, and (1656) by Diego Velázquez to make the pictures look pristinely empty.
In choosing which paintings to feature in the series, Ballester gravitated toward “the most universal themes used throughout the history of art: war, religion, mythology, death,” he told Artnet News in an email.
The resulting images, in which a sense of silence and stillness prevails, are both familiar and utterly unsettling, and there is something decidedly “off” in seeing recognizable paintings stripped of some of their most important elements. By making the compositions almost entirely bare, Ballester highlights the beauty of sometimes overlooked backdrops, but there’s something undeniably sad about seeing Boticelli’s scallop shell empty, with Venus nowhere to be found.
That work in particular was an offshoot of one of Ballester’s original compositions. “I transferred the empty spaces that I portrayed in my urban landscapes to the world of classical painting,” he said.
Ballester, who isn’t on social media, said he was wasn’t comfortable speaking about why the works went viral online, but he did admit he’s been inundated with email request to reproduce the artworks in recent days.
“In these circumstances,” he said, “it fits very well with the idea of staying at home.”
See more works from the series below.