Let’s go to the movies! With awards season in full swing, we’ve paired each of this year’s Best Picture nominees with a work of art that shares a common theme. Follow this guide to discover the cinematic side of the Museum of Art.
And the nominees are…
For Best Picture: Dallas Buyers Club
Our Best Picture: Bernardino Luini, Madonna and Child with Saints Sebastian and Roch, ca. 1520-1522, SN37
In Dallas Buyers Club, a reformed bigot starts an underground drug ring to provide lifesaving medication to AIDS patients. Our Madonna and Child features a character who was similarly dedicated to caring for the sick – Saint Roch, who traveled the countryside comforting plague victims. Saint Roch is shown on the right, lifting his tunic to reveal that he, too, suffers from the skin lesions that accompany the plague. Disease, care, and compassion characterize both of these intimate works.
For Best Picture: Wolf of Wall Street
Our Best Picture: Luca Giordano, A Bacchanal, 17th century, SN161
The Wolf of Wall Street provides a window into the extravagant, drug-fueled world of corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort. If the licentious parties that Jordan enjoyed during his heyday were transported to ancient Rome, they might look something like Luca Giordano’s A Bacchanal. Giordano shows us an image of the ritual dedicated to Bacchus, god of wine and intoxication. In both works, sensuality and excess are on full display.
For Best Picture: Captain Phillips
Our Best Picture: Giuseppe Cesari, Perseus and Andromeda, 1620s, SN108
A gripping tale of rescue at sea, Captain Phillips follows an American seafarer whose vessel is hijacked by pirates. Perseus and Andromeda depicts an equally dramatic escape from danger. The hero Perseus swoops in, sword bared, to save the captive Andromeda from a snarling sea monster. Both the painting and the film capitalize on the drama of an exciting rescue mission.
For Best Picture: American Hustle
Our Best Picture: Attributed to Nicolas Bollery, The Actors, ca. 1595/1605, SN688
American Hustle details the lives of two swindlers who team up to practice the art of the con. In The Actors, a simple street con takes center stage – while one wily gypsy woman distracts an unsuspecting performer, another woman reaches for his money purse. The painting shows us a seventeenth-century version of a classic hustle.
For Best Picture: Her
Our Best Picture: Attributed to a Dutch artist active in Rome, Narcissus, mid-1640s, SN885
In exploring the relationship between a man and his artificially intelligent computer operating system, Her gives us an example of a very unusual love story. Likewise, Narcissus shows a man grappling with a unique love interest. According to Greek myth, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who fell in love with his own reflection. Both the film and the painting make us face the sometimes questionable objects of our desire.
For Best Picture: Philomena
Our Best Picture: Peter Paul Rubens, Achilles Dipped into the River Styx, ca. 1630-1635, SN221
Philomena is the true story of a mother searching for her son. Years after losing the boy through forced adoption, Philomena sets out to discover his fate and reconnect. Rubens’s composition shows Thetis demonstrating a similar kind of devotion to her son, Achilles. Attempting to make him immortal, Thetis dips the child in the River Styx. This act, like the heart-wrenching film, exemplifies the power of a mother’s love for her child.
For Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Our Best Picture: Juan de Pareja, The Flight into Egypt, 1658, SN339
An incredible true story of oppression and resilience, 12 Years a Slave follows the journey of Solomon, a black violinist who is abducted into slavery and eventually restored to freedom in pre-Civil War America. Two hundred years before those events, Juan de Pareja was a slave of Moorish descent serving in the workshop of the famous Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Pareja broke social taboos by becoming an artist in his own right and, like Solomon, gaining his freedom.
For Best Picture: Nebraska
Our Best Picture: Giovanni Michele Granieri, The Lottery Drawing in Piazza delle Erbe, Turin, 1756, SN195
Nebraska follows a father and son who embark on a journey to claim a lottery prize. With humor and humanity, the film delves into the chaos that ensues during their trip. Giovanni Michele Granieri shows us a different kind of chaos – the announcement of a lottery winner in bustling Turin, Italy. Both the film and the painting capture small moments that illustrate the often messy nature of life and relationships.
For Best Picture: Gravity
Our Best Picture: Jean Baptiste Pillement, A Harbor, ca. 1770, SN686
Gravity presents the nightmarish situation of being stranded in space, where a lone traveler struggles to survive and return to the safety of Earth’s surface. Jean Baptiste Pillement’s A Harbor contains the same contrast between the security of dry land and the danger of uncharted territory. While boats ply calm waters in the foreground, distant storm clouds remind us, as in Gravity, that every voyage has its risks.