Hanging alongside works by Michelangelo and Raphael in Room 8 (Jan 2018) of the National Gallery in London is the beautiful medieval Mannerist masterpiece by Bronzino depicted below.
The picture entitled Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time or An Allegory with Venus and Cupid was painted for King Frances I of France in the mid-1500s and depicts Cupid kissing his mother Venus.
Four hundred years later, in the 1960s, a young animator wandering through the museum seeking inspiration for a show he was working on was attracted to the picture – not to the kiss but rather to Cupid’s foot in the lower left hand corner of the picture. That animator was Terry Gilliam and the show was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Gilliam was particularly attracted by the upturned big toe.
Gilliam’s role with the show, though he did occasionally appear in it, was creator of the surreal and wonderfully crazy animation which featured in the opening and closing credits as well as between sketches. These animations would frequently include bits and pieces borrowed from famous paintings and photography.
If my reader is familiar with the Python show he or she will immediately recognise what is perhaps Gilliam’s most famous piece of animation, the ‘foot’ which stomps down from the sky onto the show’s title twice in the opening credits and then makes regular appearances elsewhere in the show – generally accompanied by the sound of flatulence as it obliterates whatever it lands on. When the foot came down it was time to move on to the next sketch!
The Python foot is very closely modelled on Cupid’s foot in Bronzino’s painting though it is most frequently flipped and rotated as it is in all of the above pictures.
For anyone who ever doubted it, surely my review is evidence that Monty Python is pure art. I wonder if Bronzino had painted his picture ‘a few frames later’ would that pigeon have been splattered across the bottom of the canvas?
Even if you are not particularly interested in Monty Pyton’s Foot there are many other pictures in the National Gallery making a visit worth your time.
Location – Room 8, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square