Category Archives: Art History in Literature
I checked out an audiobook of Mr. Gaiman reading the novel and what do I hear? A light, joking conversation about expensive food in museums and attempting to use Tintoretto and Van Gogh paintings to buy them instead of money. Before that, the author references the Louvre, the Tate Gallery, and the National Gallery. As he mentions these places, Gaiman observed that taking in-depth tours of these places will leave you aching and “the great art treasures of the world blur into each other after a while”. As someone who does this, Gaiman wrote the truth.
As usual, I love how Granada fleshed out a story that bordered on the status of throwaway. The series features has featured a lot of art during its course, but only a certain will stand out thanks to camera work and lighting. When the filmmakers allow a painting to stand out even when the plot does not acknowledge it, it sometimes acts as a way to reveal character traits for any person watching. The paintings featured here show Professor Coram’s cultivated and religious personality that Doyle hinted in the original text. Watching this episode, I enjoyed the religious and Classical paintings found in The Golden Pince-Nez. Especially the giant fresco behind Coram’s bed at 21: 04. It looks very Neo-Classical, and if anyone knows who did it, let me know. For more noticeable artwork, if you watch the series at 15:04, you can see a Medieval or early Renaissance style painting of an angel behind Mycroft.
And what do we have here in the background at 38:09? Giovanni Bellini’s Doge Leonardo Loredan
In the story, I think I found an art history reference.
“Yes, sir, it is a crushing blow,” said the old man. “That is my MAGNUM OPUS—the pile of papers on the side table yonder. It is my analysis of the documents found in the Coptic monasteries of Syria and Egypt, a work which will cut deep at the very foundation of revealed religion. With my enfeebled health I do not know whether I shall ever be able to complete it, now that my assistant has been taken from me. Dear me! Mr. Holmes, why, you are even a quicker smoker than I am myself.”
I love the atmosphere found in this story. While it feels intimate with the misty moors of Cornwall and its ancient past, the global connection between Africa and England looms large over this mystery. This connection also acts as a foreshadowing device for the plot twist near the story’s conclusion.
Starting at 22:10, the Granada dramatization references Fragonard. Do they mean Jean-Honoré Fragonard the painter? If you read the story, Doyle does not name anybody, only that it came from Spain and Fragonard came from France. I did find the sketchbook designs of jewelry a nice touch though.
What the original story says about the jewelry, a plot point that drives the whole mystery:
“Lady Frances,” he continued, “is the sole survivor of the direct family of the late Earl of Rufton. The estates went, as you may remember, in the male line. She was left with limited means, but with some very remarkable old Spanish jewellery of silver and curiously cut diamonds to which she was fondly attached–too attached, for she refused to leave them with her banker and always carried them about with her. A rather pathetic figure, the Lady Frances, a beautiful woman, still in fresh middle age, and yet, by a strange change, the last derelict of what only twenty years ago was a goodly fleet.”
My, what a sumptuous, disturbing, and exhilarating episode. Beyond the Chinese pottery, both the Granada dramatization and original short story gives enough references to make an art history lover drown in their saliva. If you watch the episode I embedded, pause at 15:24. You can see Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, an obvious allegory of a beautiful woman overtaken by an ugly beast.
On the actress who played Kitty Winter, she reminds me of the women found in paintings by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with pale skin and red hair.
The Venetians Wife: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis by Nick Bantock
Reading through the people’s journals, e-mails, programs, illustrations, and other miscellany that give plot points, the story involves a “ghost in the machine” named Niccolo Conti, the “Renaissance Explorer”. The electronic spirit provides financial support to museum worker Sara Wolfe so she can find several Hindu goddess statues that once belonged to him.
Cut for spoilers
(Edited for rewriting and removal of links)
While I listened to a reading courtesy of BBC iPlayer, I wondered if Walter de la Mare referenced any real life cathedral for this story. Then I heard this:
“He resembled one of those old men whom Rembrandt delighted in drawing. The knotted hands, the black drooping eyebrows, the thin-lipped ecclesiastical mouth.”
On a whim, I decided to listen to this audiobook of A Christmas Carol. Even though I have seen multiple adaptations of this book, I have never actually read it (or listened to it). In my listening, the book rewarded me with two art history references!
However, the people behind CCProse need to correct a typo I saw in this “Videobook”.