An oil painting of 100 historical personages is one of the Internet’s newest sensations. Figures ranging from Fidel Castro to Shirley Temple are depicted in the large-scale 20′ x 8.5′ (6m x 2.6m) work entitled “Discussing the Divine Comedy With Dante.” Three additional faces — pushing up the count of faces in the painting to 103 — belong to the artists themselves. From Telegraph:
Message boards have erupted with contests to identify all those featured, who range from instantly recognisable figures like Gandhi to some more obscure figures such as Liu Xiang, the Chinese hurdler who limped out of the Beijing Olympics in the summer.
An element of mystery also surrounds that origins of the picture, which appears to have drawn inspiration from Raphael’s Renaissance fresco The School of Athens.
[…]They created the oil painting – titled Discussing the Divine Comedy with Dante – in 2006, although it has only become a viral internet hit in the past few weeks.
Sina reveals more about the painting and its three artists in its article “Deciphering History’s Most Mysterious Oil Painting,” selectively translated by CDT:
On the Chinese elements in the painting:
One netizen said that it seems like there is Pu-erh tea and a tea biscuit in front of Mao Zedong, placed there as if to relate some aspects of Chinese tea culture. However, artist Dai Dudu says that it is a tile end with a dragon depiction on it. Indeed, as many netizens have noted, the painting includes many Chinese elements: a red tablecloth with a China map, Chinese bronze vessels, and a broken ancient wheel — did you see all of these?
On the presence of the camera at the painting’s right-hand side:
It is now certain that the figure in the painting’s right-hand side above Yue Fei is Mei Lanfang. But what is he holding, and what is its significance? As many netizens have pointed out, he has a camera in his hand. According to this writer, the camera is used to express a kind of relaxed and humorous side. But it also creates a link — the camera captures life as well as the painting’s external surroundings, effectively creating a connection with the viewers.
On the artists:
The creators are Chinese artists. They are Dai Dudu, Liaoning Art Institute’s Vice President; Li Tiezi, contemporary oil painter; Zhang Anjun, chairman of the Shenyang Youth Association of Artists, and contemporary oil painter. Dai Dudu led the effort.
According to Dai Dudu, the three began work on the painting in 2006, completing it 10 months later. “At the time, we wanted to represent world history within a single painting. We wanted to showcase the world’s story, and let viewers feel as if they were flipping the pages of a history book,” Dai said.
Interesting facts about the painting:
A few other inclusions were made in the hopes that the painting would have romantic and even humorous elements. For example, there is a typewriter in front of [Chinese poet] Li Bai. To Liu Xiang’s side is [Kofi] Annan playing a flute, which expresses a relaxed spirit. To the left is George W. Bush, looking through a telescope while Bin Laden stands behind him. Artist Dai Dudu includes a stroke of chance: conveniently, Saddam Hussein is within Bush’s line of vision.
The three painters are depicted next to Dante in the upper right-hand corner of the painting.
The non-Chinese figures are:
Dante, Archimedes, Gates, Lenin, Pele, Tutankhamen, Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam, Chopin, Hepburn, Ford, Charlie Chaplin, Bethune, Gorky, Pushkin, Charles de Gaulle, Paul, Bill Clinton, Peter the Great, Matisse, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Elvis, Stalin, Da Vinci, Marx, Engels, Goethe, Nietzsche,Robert Caro, Shakespeare , Mozart, Napoleon, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Marlon Brando, Yasser Arafat, Monroe, Washington, Lincoln, Marie Curie, Rodin, Picasso, Caesar, Osama bin Laden, Bush, Luciano Pavarotti, Dali, Jordan, Sharon, Chennault, Charles, Kofi Annan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Hideki Tojo, Mother Teresa, Michelangelo, Bismarck, Nobel, Tagore, Rousseau, Van Gogh, Eisenhower, Lautrec, Corneliu Baba, Gandhi, Noah, Einstein, Tolstoy, Hans Christian Andersen, Spielberg, Shirley Temple, Tyson, Vladimir Putin, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Freud, Elizabeth II.
The Chinese figures are:
Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Confucius, Laozi, Li Bai, Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kai-shek, Qin Shi Huang, Genghis Khan, Cixi, Song Qingling, Mei Lanfang, Run Run Shaw, Lu Xun, Lei Feng, Guan Yu, Liu Baishi, Qi Baishi, Bruce Lee, Liu Xiang, and Cui Jian.
Click here for the full image. This site has an interactive version of the painting that gives the name of each person when you hover the mouse over their image, with a link to their Wikipedia page. Note: There are discrepancies between the names in the list provided by Sina (above) and the list at the external site.