Would even the artists' mothers know them?

'Elle' asked seven photographers to interpret their chosen painting, with some startling results, such as a change of sex for Costa Lorenzo's martyred Saint Sebastian (left). Alexandra Williams tells the full story
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The Independent Online
Kylie Minogue's versatility is not in dispute. Before doing a spot of modelling she spent her time singing pop ballads, not forgetting her role in the Australian soap opera Neighbours as the girl-next-door. But her appearance as one of Van Gogh's potato eaters is a new one, even for her.

The actress Tilda Swinton, on the other hand, has kipped down in the Serpentine Gallery for a week in the name of art, so posing as the Virgin Mary was all in a day's work.

When Elle, the glossy women's magazine, asked seven photographers to reshoot a painting of their choice, Minogue and Swinton were among those chosen to pose in the photographs.

Anton Corbijn's photographic version of Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters, 1885, shows a bare-chested Minogue munching on a potato. The Dutch photographer, who has worked with the rock group U2, said: "I wanted to take the painting into the fast-living magazine erotic and create a simple photograph of a beautiful Nineties woman eating a potato. Kylie was just right. The hardest part was cooking the potato because I usually eat out."

Stuart Douglas, a British photographer, has interpreted Raphael's Madonna with the Goldfinch, 1507. He chose Swinton, who recently starred in the Hollywood film Female Perversions as a lawyer with wild sexual fantasies about women, for his black-and-white shot.

He said: "Images of the Madonna proliferate in art works through the years. I tried to convey the feelings of lots of paintings which include the spirituality, but most importantly the subject's humility, and Tilda has an almost divine air about her."

The collection of photographs was the idea of Duane Ashurst, Elle's photography director. It appears in the September issue, to be published on Friday.

Photographers with a "painterly style and who are all top in their field of photography" were chosen, Mr Ashurst said.

"The only thing we stipulated was that a person must be included in the photograph.

"David Lachapelle's came in last. It was very exciting to receive it but we were hesitant in case it was too risque. But it's great. The colours are incredible and there is such minute detail, right down to the inclusion of masks in the background."

Lachapelle has interpreted Bronzino's An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, 1540-1550. He has titled his photograph The Exposure of Luxury and has draped the three models with $500,000-worth of jewellery and watches. He said: "This is my favourite painting. It's about the fleeting moment of youth and I think it's erotic and beautiful."

Shot in black and white, Mary Ellen Mark's version of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" (La Giaconda) features a women with long dark hair and a false beard. The model's identity is not revealed, the photographer referring to her as merely the "Bearded Lady".

"Artists should do their own thing and not just reproduce. I am fascinated by the enigmatic quality of the lady," she said.

Sibyl Buck, the 23-year-old American model, was chosen by the British photographer Rankin for his interpretation of Costa Lorenzo's The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, 1535.

"I chose Sibyl Buck because she looks kind of Renaissance and she still looks sexy covered in arrows," he said.

Pierre et Gilles shot their picture in Paris. They chose Toulouse-Lautrec's Monsieur Boileau, c1893, and used the former Soft Cell singer Marc Almond. "He's a modern day Monsieur Boileau," they said.

"The Rokeby Venus", 1658, by Velazquez, was Helmut Newton's choice. His interpretation is one of the more literal of the set. In his grainy black-and-white shot, two naked females are pictured on a leather chaise longue, in similar positions to the figures in Velazquez's painting. But rather than a mirror, the "angel" is holding a television.

Newton said: "I wanted to bring the Rokeby Venus into contemporary society."

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