Is there a technical term for intentional anachronisms in realistic art?

It was used a lot in 16th-17th century paintings:

The Queen of Sheba by Mattia Preti- the Biblical queen is dressed in a gown worthy of a 17th century court, and while robed Solomon is much more Habsburg era than ancient Israelite and I suspect the artist knew it, just as it’s probably not coincidental that the little dog is included in a time when lapdogs were all the rage in Europe.

Aristotle and the Bust of Homer by Rembrandt- same story. While I doubt Rembrandt was a scholar on Hellenistic fashion, I’m also pretty sure he was intentionally painting Aristotle as a rich Dutch merchant of the 17th century.

In Daniel, a 1970s painting by Joseph Hirsch that hangs at an art museum near my house, the OT theme of Balshazzar’s Feast is interpreted as something from the era of the robber barons rather than either ancient Israel or 1970s America.

Is there a technical term for this- when the artist intentionally chooses a setting (place, clothing style, etc.) that he or she knows is at odds with the historical setting?
And can anybody think of any modern examples?

I don’t know of a technical term for this besides “modernizing”, which seems like a paltry term. I hope that an art history major will come along with a better term shortly.

There are modern examples, such as the 1995 production of Richard III, even though that’s not a translation to a realistic version of the modern world. There are probably more cultural translations in movies than time translations, but that’s probably due to movies (and the globalization of narratives) being fairly recent.

“Intentional Anachronism”?

I think “anachronism”* is *the technical term. It’s so common in older works as to seem to come from provincial ignorance, but it may be intentional at times. And we may not always know which.

From the tarbaby of wikis, TVtropes:

Yeah, it’s almost standard in Shakespearean theater to cast the production in any time other than either the time in which it’s set or Shakespearean attire. You’re as likely to find *King Lear *performed in Chinese robes or Star Wars cosplay as you are in Elizabethan finery.

Right, but the majority of Shakespeare’s plays aren’t set in Elizabethan England either. But even if the play was set in medieval England or ancient Athens or contemporary Italy, they didn’t make any effort to costume the actors realistically. Maybe they slapped bedsheet togas on the players in “Julius Caesar”, but they were playing to the audience’s expectations, not realism.

This sort of thing isn’t restricted to a couple of centuries ago. As noted above, there have been re-settings of Shakespeare’s plays in different historical eras. An awful lot of them, in fact.

In Japanese art, Masami Teraoka has made a career out of producing traditional Ukiyo-e - like prints, but with jarringly modern items set in their traditional images – a Geisha eating MacDonald’s French fries, or a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone. Or a samurai with a briefcase and a camera on a tripod.;_ylt=AwrB8pac7IVUSX4AOGKJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTIzOXFmajg2BHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1nBG9pZAM4NTU5Nzk0MTE5NDVkNjU4YmRkNDFlOGVhMTIyYmU0ZARncG9zAzEwBGl0A2Jpbmc-?.origin=&<b>Masami+Teraoka<%2Fb>&p=Masami+teraoka&oid=855979411945d658bdd41e8ea122be4d&fr2=&fr=yfp-t-901&tt=<b>Masami+Teraoka<%2Fb>&b=0&ni=288&no=10&ts=&tab=organic&sigr=11buqouma&sigb=13ea9cb3r&sigi=11hjattcu&sigt=10ll3nel9&sign=10ll3nel9&.crumb=iFnxBO8CwGG&fr=yfp-t-901

Yahoo Image Search…+31+Flavors+Invading+Japan±+%3Cb%3EMasami+Teraoka%3C%2Fb%3E+%7C+FAMSF+Explore+the+Art&p=Masami+teraoka&oid=9e14561ca428a4d63b28935a5f9f8816&fr2=&fr=yfp-t-901&tt=…+31+Flavors+Invading+Japan±+%3Cb%3EMasami+Teraoka%3C%2Fb%3E+%7C+FAMSF+Explore+the+Art&b=61&ni=21&no=115&ts=&tab=organic&sigr=1331liipg&sigb=14fjjbg8n&sigi=126603jp4&sigt=12dce2tin&sign=12dce2tin&.crumb=iFnxBO8CwGG&fr=yfp-t-901

And these sometimes get made into movies. There is a version of Romeo and Juliet that is pretty faithful to dialogue but was set in the 20th century with Guidos who carry automatic weapons.

Akira Kurosawa did an adaptation of Macbeth set in Feudal Japan.

King Lear, too –


Maybe we can do more of this today. I’d like to see an adaptation of classic Greek dramas set in the Star Wars universe. I can see a scene where a Wookiee comes out of his religious frenzy and realizes to his horror that he’s not holding the head of a bantha, but that of a Storm Trooper, still in its helmet. It’s a scene from

The ChewBacchae

It probably wouldn’t go over well. I can foresee the audience running our during the Wookiee Chorus.

Let’s see. Luke spent two movies trying to kill a guy who turned out to be his father, and having the hots for a woman who turned out to be his sister. The House of Skywalker would fit right in with the House of Atreus.

Oops, wrong myth. It was the descendants of Cadmus who killed their fathers and married their mothers. The descendants of Atreus were merely adulterers and murderers.

In the painting I think it would be simply called ‘artistic license’.

When you stage a play (or a film) in a different time than originally written, that is just called ‘setting’. I setting Midsummer Night’s Dream in the future inside the lobster tank at a Red Lobster on the Asteroid L-27.

For some large percentage of art, particularly in the case of pre-20th Century art, I believe that the term is, “Not giving a damn” and/or “Not having a clue”. Potentially, a lot of these artists were largely uneducated in anything except how to mix paints and do a good job shading things. For many, it’s entirely possible that they were simply told what the contents and story of the picture would be, and then they may or may not have scrabbled around asking other people to fill them in on what a “Sheba” is, and taking the various half-memories and conjectures that they got to piece together a picture that at least pointed in the right direction a little bit.

I mean look at how close Hollywood gets to representing history correctly, and they have the benefit of literacy, a proper education, the Internet, and a healthy sum to dump into research and experts. Remove all that, and expecting to get something that’s not anachronistic nor laughably incorrect is being a bit wishful.

I was watching part of a miniseries of The Red Tent on Lifetime the other night; for those unfamiliar it’s adapted from Anita Diamant’s novel about the daughter of Jacob in the Book of Genesis.
It is Roger DeBris presents ‘History!’ bad: all of the characters look like they were picked from a casting call for Downton Abbey (in fact Jacob *was *on Downton Abbey) and have 21st century hairstyles and cleanliness and attitudes all around, just with wives and concubines who are cousins they buy with livestock as one does. Women wander around an ancient Middle Eastern town unescorted, unveiled, and carrying money and making small talk with male strangers- I somehow doubt any woman would have done all three at once, and all of the costumes look like they were bought at an upper middle class church’s Nativity Pageant (clean, perfectly sewn, with only a little bit of fur or jagged sleeve every here and there to remind you “these are Bible people”.
The whole thing is Doctor Quinn: Doctor Hebrew, but my favorite :rolleyes: moment was when Dinah (main character, daughter of Jacob) is given a present by the prince who is in love with her and… it’s wrapped in paper. For anyone remotely familiar with the making of papyrus, the wrapping is worth way more than the gift. In the unlikely event an ancient person would have wrapped a gift it probably would have been in some form of cloth, and with the clear understanding "I want the cloth back immediately’.


Uh, did ancient Palestinians in that era even use veils? Are you equating “Hebrew” to “Sumerian”?

No, neither were they likely named Dr. Quinn: it’s a joke based on the execrable 1990s series that took anachronistic presentism to ridiculous heights.
While they may not have worn veils, it’s a safe assumption that in a time and place where women were property they weren’t allowed to mingle and flirt like modern women. And Genesis most definitely makes references to women in Dinah’s family covering their faces as they had a bad habit of getting summoned by the kings of the lands where they traveled (almost exactly the same story for Dinah’s great-grandmother Sarah and grandmother Rebekah, in fact).