I am still, like many I imagine, patiently waiting for my Hogwarts letter to arrive by post (my owl must be very lost). When first reading about the magical world of Harry Potter, one of the things that really excited me was the discovery that paintings could talk.
I mean, it doesn’t get much cooler than that, am I right?…
Think of the possibilities! You could ask the Mona Lisa whether she is in fact sad or happy? Or what Van Gogh was really thinking when he cut off his ear?
Sadly, in my muggle world, the paintings are very much silent and still. So this post is a little homage to Art History in the wizarding world.
Introducing my brief Art History Guide: the Harry Potter edition. (I had to choose artworks that feature in both the books and the films since I have to have some visuals to work with!)
1. The Fat Lady (both versions)
Whilst she may not be that great at singing, The Fat Lady changes from her first appearance in film 1 to when she is played by the wonderful Dawn French.
The first portrait shows a woman whose dress and hairstyle would date the painting roughly to the late 1600s/early 1700s. She stands in an exterior setting with a classical vase behind her which was a popular setting at the time, often to display the sitter’s wealth, lands and knowledge of Antiquity/Classicism. French artist Piere Mignard, for example, did a similar painting in 1680.
Cue Dawn French. The Fat Lady is now dressed in suitable goddess attire with a flowing white dress that harks back to the Roman or Grecian period. This links to the temple on the hill in the background. Her appearance is very similar to images of Bacchus – the God of Wine, especially with that head garland full of rich fruit, mainly grapes.
This type of portrait could be dated more to the 1700s when they loved depictions of the classical myths and gods within an idyllic classically inspired landscape, often known as Arcadia. Joshua Reynolds did a portrait of one of his sitters as a nymph cradling a young Bacchus which, whilst it may look different to The Fat Lady, is similar in subject.
2. Magic is Might Statue, Ministry of Magic
This striking artwork bares a close resemblance to the Russian sculpture The Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, now in Moscow. This sculpture was made by Vera Mukhina for the Soviet Pavillion of the International Exhibition, held in Paris in 1937. It is, as you can imagine, a particularly political sculpture.
At the top, instead of two wand wielding figures, there is a worker and a Kolkhoz woman (i.e.a farmer) who raise a hammer and a sickle above their heads – two symbols of the Soviet Union.
The Russian sculpture is an example of the social realist style from the first half of the 20th century with a healthy mix of Art Deco in the geometric pedestal.
3. The Black Family Tree Tapestry
This wonderful tapestry lists all the members of the Black family tree and crops up in the fifth book, the Order of the Phoenix.
Now, if you have read my previous post that discussed a tapestry in the V&A, you will know that they were incredibly expensive items to have in your house (for muggles). I don’t know how the wizarding world went about making them but I would hazard a guess that it wouldn’t be just any family that would have had something like this.
According to J.K. Rowling herself, the tapestry dates from around the Middle Ages. Sure enough, there are manuscript illuminations of the Tree of Jesse from that time that are similar to this magical wall hanging.
Text in Latin at the top and bottom is a common feature in tapestries and often explains the scene depicted or may include mottos usually associated with the patron. This detail is included in the Black’s tapestry too.
So there we have it – a humble guide to some of the Art in the World of Harry Potter based on my muggle experience.
Now, back to the potions revision…