Art in Video Games: It Ring(oe)s a Bell

Saturday 13 August 2016

When Ramon Salazar, the diminutive megalomaniac villain of Resident Evil 4, boasts about being the 8th castellan of the magnificent architecture that is his castle, it is pretty evident that he feels very proud of his ancestry, although he basically did everything he could to build the worst reputation around the Salazar name.

Leon won't bite, though. He understands right from the start that this diminutive man (?) simply tries to prove himself as someone important, taking advantage of his legacy.

The Salazar castle is a feast for the eyes; the decoration is exquisite, everything is luxurious and expensive. There are several paintings on the walls - a Botticelli here, a Caravaggio there, a Rembrandt somewhere else; are those copies, or maybe Salazar managed to buy the original ones from the museums. How knows?

Upon starting the exploration of the castle, Leon comes across a very special painting. It is this full body portrait of a man holding a gun.

This painting is mainly part of a puzzle. If you walk up to it, you will get a prompt to grab the Prison Key which, as it turns out, is hanging on it. You then have to go back to the Prison door, open it with the key, release the terrifying Garrador, defeat him, and pull a lever that will turn off some flames in the corridor leading to the main hall.

The man in the painting is holding the Broken Butterfly in his hand; it's the most powerful weapon among Leon's standard inventory (not counting any of the special weapons or those that you can acquire after completing Round 1); a vintage magnum revolver that Leon can actually get in his hands much later, after exploring a secret room in the castle.

Obviously this man is supposed to be an ancestor of Ramon Salazar, as he is holding this gun which is part of the Salazar heritage (given its super secret and almost inaccessible hiding place). But doesn't he look somehow familiar? To me he did, even from my very first playthroughs of the game some years ago. Could it be some real person? Is this painting based on an existing one? Does it have a reference? Is is a completely random portrait that someone discovered and decided to put it in the game? Or it s a fictional painting, made specifically for this purpose?

I made a long research, but it didn't get me anywhere that clear. There seems to be no real painting corresponding 100% to this one, although there are a few that are similar; the most prominent being King Charles I At The Hunt by Anthony Van Dyck (thanks to Maurizio Caldreron of Project Umbrella for pointing this out) where the man portrayed shares a pretty similar pose albeit he looks the other way round, closely followed by several other paintings like Philip IV dressed as a cuirassier, accompanied by a court dwarf by Gaspar de Crayer or Portrait of King Philip IV of Spain by Juan Bautista Martinez - and if you keep searching, you will probably find a decent number of such old paintings portraying noblemen and kings in more similar or less similar poses.

What makes a difference in this painting's case, in relation to the game, is that while the other paintings that appear in the Salazar castle are identical to the original ones (see the Resident Evil 4 section of this article for more details), this one seems to be an altered version of its possible real-life counterparts. Which means that while the pose may relate to a real painting, the face of the man it depicts does not. Just like in the case of the safe house painting in Alfred Ashford's training facility, here too the painting has been sort of transformed, to match something game-related or simply to make a difference for whatever reason.

Still, the man in the painting looked extremely familiar or at least looked very much like someone I had seen before.

And then it struck me.

This guy shares a striking resemblance with the drummer of The Beatles, Ringo Starr.

Of course, this is just speculation. But the resemblance remains.

And it is not just the looks. There are a few details in Ringo's life that somehow connect him with Salazar.

Ringo had a very troublesome childhood and early adolescence, due to a series of serious illnesses that even kept him at home, away from school for months. In a parallel and quite extravagant universe, Salazar got infected with the Plagas virus, resulting in the hideous midget - super creepy kid from Phenomena hybrid deformation that made him isolate himself in the castle, away from the world.

Ringo was a drummer. When another Beatle, Paul McCartney, was playing drums with the Steve Miller band in 1969, he was using the pseudonym Paul Ramon. See what I did there?

One of the most iconic albums by the Beatles was "Revolver". The Broken Butterfly, the gun that 'Ringo' in the painting is holding, is a revolver.

And of course Ringo Starr shares the same initials with Ramon Salazar. And the same happens with his real name, which is Richard Starkey.

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