Art Historians' Guide to the Movies | What is it? | What's new?
Ancient Medieval Renaissance Nineteenth-Century
Modernism Contemporary Modern Architecture Non-Western Other References
Search the site | Submit a citation | Origins of the guide | About the creator


aroque and Rococo

Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe

LA Story -- l991
"In a scene set in the Los Angeles County Museum of art, Steve Martin skates past Guido Reni's Portrait of Cardinal Roberto Ubaldini. A shot freezes on the cardinal as Martin skates by. Other works in the collection appear more briefly."
Robert Cahn, Fashion Institute of Technology
The Little Mermaid -- 1989
"Ariel, the little mermaid, explores the treasures of a sunken ship and swims past George de la Tour's The Magdalene with Smoking Flame. This is the version in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art."
Robert Cahn, Fashion Institute of Technology
The Pirate -- 1948
"Scott Schaefer in his catalogue Guido Reni l575-1642, page 2, observes,"The set decorators for Vincente Minnelli's Gene Kelly/Judy Garland vehicle The Pirate (MGM 1947),..., prominently displayed Reni's Portrait of Beatrice Cenci (no longer attributed to the artist) on an easel in the mayor's study to indicate his taste and, therefore, his knowledge of 'art.'"
Robert Cahn, Fashion Institute of Technology
Van Helsing -- 2004
"After the Notre Dame scene, Van Helsing travels to Vatican City-Rome to the Church of St. Peter. A view of St. Peter square (Piazza san Pietro) with Bernini's colonnades and sculptures of the saints can be seen and Van Helsing walks through the interior of this church toward the dome (designed by Michelangelo)."
Kendall Larson, Univ. of St. Thomas
Caravaggio -- 1986
"There is a wonderful albeit a bit odd film by Derek Jarman about Caravaggio which covers his life and works including many interesting concepts about the impetus for some of his works. I believe the film came out in 1986 ... it is available on video"
Margaret Ann Zaho, U. of Washington, Seattle
Tea with Mussolini -- 1999
"In Tea with Mussolini, the painting Woman Playing a Lute by Artemisia Gentileschi can be seen on an easel behind Cher."
David Topper, Univ. of Winnipeg
Artemisia -- 1997
"I noticed someone was asking about other bio-pictures depicting actual women artists, aside from Camile Claudel. My pick would be Agnes Merlet's 1997 movie Artemisia, about Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653), one of the first well known female painters. It is both educational (showing a woman's struggle to follow her passion, when simply being a woman was struggle enough) and very entertaining."
Chris Stephens, Prestige Art
"A controversial film about Artemisia Gentileschi, the 17th century artist, will open on May 8, 1998 in theaters across the US. Artemisia, by French filmmaker Agnes Merlet, which focusses on the incident of Artemisia's rape and its immediate aftermath, was initially advertised as "a true story" by Miramax Zoe, its American distributor. Those who have seen the film attest that it is nothing of the kind. Every detail of the historical story has been inverted to produce a romanticized narrative of "true love" between Artemisia and Agostino Tassi, her rapist.
Those who study women's history, who know how fragile the truth about women in history always is, and how vulnerable it is to conflation with female stereotypes, have been and will be outraged by the latest injustice to Artemisia Gentileschi, who has repeatedly been subjected to sexualized explanations of her life and career success.
(information prepared by Mary Garrard and Gloria Steinem)
In the film, Artemisia Gentileschi and Agostino Tassi are presented as voluntary and passionate lovers. When her father (Orazio Gentileschi) brings Tassi to trial on the charge of rape (to protect his own reputation), Artemisia testifies even when tortured that Tassi did not rape her. Tassi is presented first as a reluctant lover, then as a flawed but noble character who protects Artemisia by accepting the false charge of rape.
HISTORY: In the fully documented trial of 1612, Agostino Tassi was charged with and convicted of the rape of Artemisia Gentileschi. He never confessed to the crime, and on the contrary, tried to accuse Artemisia's father of having deflowered her, and to insist she had also written love letters to other men -- though she could barely write at the time. Artemisia testified repeatedly under oath and torture that she had been raped by Tassi. She described the event in explicit and graphic detail, and her own resistance to the point of wounding him with a knife. After the rape, Agostino promised to marry Artemisia, which would have been the only socially acceptable remedy in 17th century Italy for a woman who had become "damaged property." She evidently believed him at first (though she came to doubt his intentions) and had reluctant sexual relations with her assailant: "What I was doing with him, I did only so that, as he had dishonored me, he would marry me" (from her rape trial testimony).
In reality, Tassi was known as what might now be called a multiple sex offender. He had been sued for raping and impregnating his sister-in-law, equated with incest, and there was testimony at the trial that he had arranged and paid for the murder of his own wife, whom he had also acquired by rape.
The theme of the film is that Artemisia's sexual awakening, initiated by Tassi, launched her artistic creativity. Tassi is cast as a guiding creative spirit, whose ability to visualize landscape inspired Artemisia's art. His work is also portrayed as rivaling that of Artemisia's father, Orazio Gentileschi.
HISTORY: Tassi is known for technical skill in perspective and for conventional marine landscapes. Artemisia's art had nothing to do with landscape (she hired other artists to paint the landscape backgrounds in her pictures). Contrary to the film, she never drew or painted independent images of the nude male body. There was no known effect of Tassi's "teaching" on her art, and Tassi's own art is judged to be second rank, no rival for that of Artemisia or her father.
Artemisia Gentileschi is today considered the most important woman artist of the pre-modern era, and a major artist of the Italian Baroque. She was the first female artist to paint large scale history and religious pictures, subjects considered off-limits to women at that time, and she specialized in themes with female protagonists. Her depiction of traditional stories of rape and vengeance -- but from the viewpoint of a woman -- marked a breakthrough in the history of art. In fact, a year before the rape, Artemisia produced an important early painting, Susanna and the Elders of 1610, whose unusual treatment of this biblical theme has been recognized as a subtextual protest against the sexual exploitation of women. The Judith and Holofernes painted shortly after the rape -- which is used in the film as an erotic tableau vivant -- has been interpreted by art historian Mary Garrard as a metaphoric expression of female resistance to masculine sexual dominance.
The idea that a woman artist is the creation of a male mentor has been a persistent myth in the history of art, frequently asserted by artists and critics of the 16th and 17th centuries. So has the romanticization of violent rape, as in the rape scenes in this film, and the idea that women wish to be raped or fall in love with their rapists. Perhaps it seemed to the filmmaker that presenting Artemisia as a sexually independent woman was a positive gesture, a step beyond casting her as a sexual victim. However, the focus remains upon her sexuality and not her art. Perhaps unwittingly, the film Artemisia taps into pervasive stereotypes about women artists in general, and it perpetuates the stigma of a primarily sexualized identity that has followed Artemisia Gentileschi from her own lifetime down to the present."
Helen Langa, American University
The Merchant of Venice -- 2004
"While watching Al Pacino's version of The Merchant of Venice, in my course on Literature and the Visual Arts, I perceived that the character of the Count of Aragon while choosing the casket is based on Las Meninas by Velasquez with the dwarf and the costumes being almost directly present in both."
Cathleen McLoughlin
Rembrandt -- 1936
"As for art in popular films, don't forget Charles Laughton as Rembrandt in the 1936 film by Alexander Korda. It doesn't show many works, but could be useful in discussing artist myths (like "The Agony & The Ecstasy") or 17th-century Holland in general."
Ethan Robey, Columbia University
Annie -- 1982
"The movie Annie (with Albert Finney and Aileen Quinn) has three references to artworks - the sculpture The Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa and a self-portrait of Rembrandt."
Joanna Duder
Solaris -- 1972
"Similarly, the Russian science-fiction film Solaris, if I remember rightly, quotes among other works, Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son."
Robert A. Baron
Detonator II: Night Watch -- 1995
"Described at,60,40931,00.html thus:
Brosnan leads of an elite espionage team out to recover a stolen Rembrandt in this action sequel based on Alistair MacLean's novel, Night Watch. While on the case, they uncover a plot to destroy the Earth's communications systems.
If this is the movie I saw on tv in Holland two years or so ago, it is incomparably silly. The Night Watch, which only left Amsterdam in the Second World War, is said to have been stolen on a travelling exhibition to Japan, and replaced with a copy that no one recognized as such."
Gary Schwartz
All the Vermeers in New York -- 1990
"What about All the Vermeers in New York, a bit minimal in my book but beautiful shots of the Met and the paintings."
Robin Masi, School of the MFA, Boston
"Partly filmed at the Frick (I think), with Vermeers in the background. Interesting comments about the relationship between a contemporary artist and his dealer."
David Zelmon
Girl with a Pearl Earring -- 2003
"I just saw the excellent Girl with a Pearl Earring movie at the cinema about the maid who poses for Vermeer's painting of the same name. It had some good scenes showing how they crush different coloured pigments and what the pigments come from. I also noticed the map of the provinces of Holland that appeared in Vermeer's Allegory of the Art of Painting (1670-75) was in the movie. In one scene, Vermeer was painting a woman pouring water, i think this was Young Woman with a Water Jug that is in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art."
Chris FitzGerald
Tous les matins du monde -- 1991
"Tous les matins du monde, where a painting (17th century France) of the disappeared beloved one has a mythical power over time and death. And for the relationship between music and painting. Also for images of Marin Marais at the court of Louis XIV."
Robert Derome, Universite du Quebec, Montreal
The Return of Martin Guerre -- 1982
"This is not quite to the point (or perhaps it is), but I'd like to note that the film The Return of Martin Guerre (Thank you Natalie Zemon Davis.) is constantly rephrasing paintings by La Tour and the Le Nain."
Robert A. Baron
Star Wars I - The Phantom Menace -- 1999
Star Wars II - Attack of the Clones -- 2002
"Star Wars. Episode I (1999) and II (2002) feature the interior of the Reggia of Caserta as the Royal Palace of Naboo."
Gerhard Bissell
Moonraker -- 1979
"While it is certainly the most ludicrous of all Bond movies, it is nevertheless very entertaining. The film is partly set at Vaux-le-Vicomte, mainly in the grounds (they even have a shooting party up there at the Hercules Farnese copy) but also in the house (the oval salon with the bronze reduction of Girardon's Louis XIV equestrian monument features a couple of times). Did they place the chateau in California? - I was distracted when that was explained."
Gerhard Bissell
Ridicule -- 1996
"To get royal backing on a needed drainage project, a poor French lord must learn to play the delicate games of wit at court at Versailles."
Alan W. Moore
Brideshead Revisited -- 1981
"The Brideshead of Brideshead Revisited, mentioned previously by Paul Hamilton, is actually Castle Howard in Yorkshire."
Gerhard Bissell
Barry Lyndon -- 1975
"An interesting use of architecture appears in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon in which English Baroque architecture features; a coach approaches Castle Howard but the occupants then emerge in the Double Cube Room at Wilton. I can still remember being shocked by this disregard for architectural accuracy when I saw the film years ago."
Ian Lochhead, U. of Canterbury
The Remains of the Day -- 1993
"Similarly, I have seen several movies where the exteriors and interiors were different buildings (the manor which played such an important role in the Merchant-Ivory film of Remains of the Day was actually a composite of several different English country houses, for example)."
Peter Walsh, Wellesley College
Twelfth Night -- 1996
"The discussion of 'accuracy' vis-à-vis representations of architecture reminded me of Trevor Nunn's 1996 production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The setting of Countess Olivia's castle in the land of Illyria is remarkably realized through the use of Lanhydrock House in Cornwall, which is quite Elizabethan on the exterior but florid Victorian Gothic Revival on the inside. There are extensive and very interesting notes on the production at that describe Nunn's conscious choice to juxtapose the Medieval and Renaissance 'feel' of the interiors with his Victorian setting for the play."
Jim Bower, Getty Information Institute
Conversation Piece -- 1974
"I like very much Visconti film, titled in French Violences et Passion (I do not know about the English title), where Burt Lancaster is a collector of 17th and 18th centuries "conversation pieces". The whole film being itself a 20th century "conversation piece""
Robert Derome, Universite du Quebec, Montreal
Last Year at Marienbad -- 1961
"The opening of the Alain Resnais/Robbe-Grillet film Last Year at Marienbad shows rococo ceilings from various pavilions in the park of Nymphenburg palace, combined with a nouveau roman stream-of-consciousness narration. The sequence brings out the irrationality and fantasy of the style."
Betsy Rosasco, Princeton University
Amadeus -- 1984
Hamlet -- 1996
"Costume dramas like Amadeus (for Rococo church interiors) and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (exteriors and interiors of Blenheim Palace)."
Nancy Nield, U. of Chicago
Dangerous Liaisons -- 1988
Valmont -- 1989
"For me, the showing of film clips in architectural history classes is a device for getting beyond the static images of slides, which, typically, show architecture without people. A short clip of the characters of Dangerous Liaisons moving through a series of rooms, for example, shows much about scale, color, texture, and light that can be visualized only with the greatest difficulty by students who have never had the opportunity to experience such spaces."
Richard Cleary, U. of Texas, Austin
"When I took my 101 survey, my professor suggested that we watch the movie Dangerous Liaisons to get an idea of Rococo architecture and interiors- my prof actually turned it into an assignment, and we were responsible for knowing the movie for our exam. Perhaps putting the film on the exam is a little too far (I thought it was), but the movie is another suggestion."
Christine Jack, U. of Alberta
"It is shocking to me that Dangerous Liaisons was included and Valmont was ignored. This movie based on the same story is far superior in its accuracy and attention to detail regarding the art, interiors, and decorative excesses of the eighteenth century."
Jessica Marten, WAMC
Ghostbusters II -- 1989
"In Ghostbusters 2, Peter MacNichol's character -- Janusz Poha, a possessed art restorer/curator -- exclaims to the ghostbusters about the painting of his evil master: "This isn't Gainsborough's Blue Boy, eh? It is Vigo!""
Barbara Berencz, Univ. of Maryland
Amistad -- 1998
"in the film 1998 Spielberg film Amistad, we used several RI locations to cover for mid 19th century colonial sites. In particular, we used the Historic Register site named "The Old Colony House" (1739-43, Richard Munday, Architect, Russell Warren 1841), (picture at, at my office film page) in downtown Newport for seven locations. By that I mean when you see the film, you see the first floor courtroom playing the part of the New Haven court, the attic used as a print shop (check out the beams, notice they are shipbuilders style not construction).
Also, on the second floor the we used a room with an actual Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington for an inn in which Morgan Freeman gets some bad news. And the major part of the film, the courtroom drama where the slaves all sit in chains, is actually on the second floor of the building above the room used as New Haven. Notice the incredible round benches and the curved railings. We shot in there for days. All the paintings are original.
Also, Mr. Spielberg used the State House (McKim Mead and White, 1895-1904, large free unsuspended dome) for two Washington locations. First as the House of Congress, you can see Anthony Hopkins in front of it. Then the Governors gold State Room is used for all scenes with President Van Buren."
Richardson Smith, State of Rhode Island
Next section