Photographer Uses IKEA Products to Create Costumes for Rembrandt-Inspired Photo Shoot

Stig Dirdal Rembrandt inspired Christmas card

With some ingenuity and inspiration from the past, Norwegian photographer Stig Håvard Dirdal created a memorable Christmas greeting for local clients, Stavanger Foto. Dirdal had worked with the small camera shop, located on the west coast of Norway, in 2015 to create a clever holiday card that went viral, but this year he turned to a master of classical painting—Rembrandt—for inspiration.

Given complete freedom to plan and execute the image, Dirdal used the Dutch master's 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp as a starting point. “Transforming an anatomy lesson into a Christmas present wrapping study just rang my bell,” Dirdal told My Modern Met. “And the fact that the Old Masters back in 1632 already knew what was coming—by the wrapping—rang them even more.” So what to do when you need to transform 10 adults into 17th-century Dutchmen? Go to IKEA, of course.

Proving that IKEA really does have everything, Dirdal first scoured the internet in search of costumes. Coming up empty-handed, he decided to put his newly purchased sewing machine to work and make them himself. “First I went to a fabric store—nothing of interest there….So I thought IKEA—they have ‘everything'—and it is good value for the money.” Dirdal went to the kitchen department for the collars, finding foam placemats that could be wrapped in tulle curtains for the proper effect. Grey blankets completed the look, as they could be cut apart and sewn into robes.

Rembrandt The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Rembrandt. ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp' Oil on canvas, 1632.

While Dirdal focused on the robes, he enlisted the help of his models for the collars, making things a team effort. “The night before the shoot I went straight from IKEA to my studio. The sewing machine and I became friends—busy friends,” Dirdal shares. “The day after, the employees came to my studio for a coffee and some instructions on how to act and what to expect. They put the robes on and they looked in the mirror—magic. I did not have time to make all the collars, so I prefabricated two prototypes, showed them how to make their own personal collar, and they did. Craftsmanship, helping each other out, and coffee. It was a really nice atmosphere.”

Dirdal then got to work with the 10 employees, placing them into position and setting up his lighting to match the carefully designed diagram he'd laid out. The final result is just what the photographer imagined—an image that conveys the holiday spirit without the overt look of a Christmas card.

The project also gave Dirdal a renewed respect for the work of the Old Masters, who spent months (or years) working on one painting. For Dirdal, the challenge was different given the new technology he has as a photographer. “Nowadays a camera can shoot 20 images a second—in RAW. The development of the idea is the biggest challenge, and also the most interesting factor for my work.”

Norwegian photographer Stig Håvard Dirdal created a 2017 Christmas card inspired by a Rembrandt painting for a local camera shop.

Stig Dirdal Rembrandt inspired Christmas card

When it came to finding costumes, the photographer turned to a store he knew would have ‘everything'—IKEA.

Stig Dirdal IKEA Christmas card costumes

Stig Dirdal IKEA Christmas card costumes

He carefully planned out the composition and lighting to capture the essence of the 1632 oil painting.

Stig Dirdal photography inspired by painting

Stig Dirdal photography inspired by painting

Watch just how still everyone had to sit in order to get the perfect photograph.

Stig Håvard Dirdal: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Stig Håvard Dirdal. 

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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