Art in Video Games: Classic Art In The Resident Evil Games

Thursday 25 August 2016

There are a few pieces of classic art - paintings and statues - that can be spotted in the interior environments in several Resident Evil games. Some of them may be related to the plot or the characters directly or indirectly, while others are serving just decorative purposes or maybe to show off the owner's art-loving nature.

One specific painting of Caravaggio is found in more than one games of the series. It is the one depicting Judith beheading Holofernes. It's notable that in all its appearances in the games, the painting looks the other way round.

This painting can be seen in Resident Evil Zero, on the wall of the study of James Marcus that opens with the Blue Leech Charm in the Laboratory.

If you move close to the painting, Rebecca (or Billy) will comment that its title is "Woman in Love with a Dead Man". Which isn't really the case, but I guess there is poetic licence for games as well.

The same painting is also found in the Meeting Room of the Ashford Mansion in Resident Evil: Code Veronica.

Interestingly enough, in the same room, there is another painting with a similar theme:

And I say similar and not the same, because it's not very clear whether it is actually Judith with the head of Holofernes or Salome with the head of John the Baptist. That said, it looks more like a combination of a few real ones depicting Salome, one by Caravaggio, one by Rubens and one by Tiziano. So it's more likely that it's Salome with John's head in that second painting.

The choice of the decapitation theme doesn't seem random, considering there is a guillotine down in the Prison grounds, and equally not random is the choice of the room the paintings are in: in the center of that room, there is the Eagle Plate on the floor. Claire must get it, return to the guillotine and place the Eagle Plate on it. Doing so, makes the blade of the guillotine snap down, which unlocks a door nearby. So the paintings in the room are actually part of the puzzle, as they hint at where you should go next, after getting the item from that room, and where this item must be used.

Caravaggio's painting is also on one of the walls of the wall trap room leading to the basement in the Spencer Mansion, in Resident Evil 1. It can be seen on the right wall in the screenshot below:

The trap consists of two walls with paintings that start closing towards each other when you attempt to run between them. To get past, you have to run inside the room so as to trigger the trap, then run back out, go behind the left wall to press a switch that will make the walls go back to their initial positions, and start to push the statue towards the other end of the trap room. Placing it on the correct spot, reveals a secret opening that leads to the basement. If you stay too long between the closing walls while there is no statue to stop them or if you don't run back out in time after hitting the switch behind the left wall, you will get crushed. So in this case as well, the macabre theme of both paintings seems to be connected to the trial. It's like they are saying: "Watch your step or you will end up dead!"

That other painting on the wall opposite the one with Judith is yet another Caravaggio painting that appears in a couple Resident Evil games and it depicts the Sacrifice of Isaak.

Part of this painting is in the Gallery of the Salazar castle, in Resident Evil 4. It is actually a puzzle which requires from the player to turn four paintings in the correct order.

In the puzzle, only Isaac can be seen in one of the paintings (the one on the far left) and there is a guillotine above his head. The other paintings are a Crucifixion and a creepy depiction of two hanged women.

To solve the puzzle, Leon must turn the paintings so that they show six people being sacrificed. The riddle that goes with it says: "The sacrifice of six lives shall make way the true path". In terms of the game, there are indeed six people that are sacrificed, not counting the monsters, of course, just the humans who are either defeated by Leon or killed by a bad guy: Bitores, Salazar, Saddler, Mike, Luis, Krauser. Although it's still unclear whether Krauser died or not, even after Ada confronted him in Separate Ways. Noone can play dead better than him.

It is worth noting that the notion of sacrifice is a recurring theme in the game; later on, for example, Leon finds an artifact called The Stone of Sacrifice, which is a key that unlocks a concealed elevator leading closer to the section of the palace where Salazar mutates and becomes a huge and terrifying monster.

Still in Resident Evil 4, another featured painting is Spring by Botticelli. It can be seen on the wall of the bedroom chamber above the garden maze:

This painting appears in a wing of the palace where, temporarily, there is peace and quietness; there are a few rooms around with no enemies, several goodies to collect and, apart from the imperial bedroom with the king-size bed (which is almost useless, as Leon cannot lie down in it and take a rest after so much running), there is also an impressive dining room with smaller framed paintings as well as philosophical quotes hinting at the futility of life, which are framed too. Nonetheless there is a room beyond where one of the biggest hullabaloos of the game happens, and you have to go through it, one way or the other.

Deeper into the castle, there is a painting by Murillo, the Waterseller of Seville. It is on the wall at one of the platforms of the train car that transports you from one wing of the palace to the other:

Not a random choice, I would guess, as the adventure takes place in Spain; as for the waterseller part, Leon doesn't buy water anywhere, but he does interact with the Merchant who is a seller, after all. 

 A painting by Rembrandt is also part of the extensive Salazar art collection, the Jeremiah laments for Jerusalem one. It is at one of the platforms of the train car rails:

This painting is very special, as you can find 5000 pesetas if you search behind it.

Raphael also has his share in the Salazar castle, with his painting The School of Athens. It is in the room that is attached to the one with the retractable bridge:

Another painting by Raphael, The Sacred Family, is featured in Resident Evil Zero. It is in one of the corridors of the Umbrella Training Facility; it can be seen on the right in this screenshot:

Raphael's portrait of Joanna of Aragon can also be seen in Resident Evil Zero. It is placed in the same corridor as the Sacred Family, next to it:

In the same game, there is a painting by Henry Fuseli, called Titania and Bottom. It is a painting inspired by Shakespeare's Midnight Summer Dream. It can be seen on one of the walls of the Laboratory.

In Shakespeare's play, Puck transforms Bottom's head into a donkey head and while he is in that state, the fairy Titania, under a spell, falls in love with him. In the game, if you move close, Billy (or Rebecca) will comment that the painting depicts a woman embracing a demon, which isn't really the case, as Bottom is a human.

The animal head however seems to be somehow related with the game. All the places where Billy and Rebecca are wandering are inhabited not only by zombies, but also by animals that are mutated and grotesque versions of normal ones: the Stinger is a giant scorpion-like creature, the Centurion is a huge and monstrous centipede, the Eliminator is a horrifying version of a monkey - to name but a few. And of course there is the big boss of the game, the Queen Leech, a hideous creature that originally was a creation of James Marcus but after he was killed, it consumed his body and his memory and eventually identified itself with its creator.

In the Game of Oblivion story of the Darkside Chronicles, which is a retelling of the events of Code Veronica, there is a statue that looks like a mirrored version of the ancient greek statue of the Victory of Samothrace. You come across it in the grounds of the Ashford Mansion, specifically on the path that leads up to the Residence:

This statue is an addition in the Darkside Chronicles, as it doesn't exist in Code Veronica where, in that place, there is instead the creepy statue of a gutted Angel.

The Victory statue is not creepy until you realize that it is actually beheaded, armless and with its one wing missing. In that light, both the Angel statue and the Victory statue give out the same feeling of uneasiness and discomfort and that something is crippled or missing: Alfred is like half a person without his sister Alexia, whom he worships and to whom has an unhealthy attachment even if she is (sort of) dead, and on the other hand Claire is searching for her brother, having no idea about his whereabouts, wandering in an extremely hostile place where not only she is not welcome, but moreover is directly threatened and attacked.

And it's possible to take this notion even deeper and further: the Darkside Chronicles chapter is in fact a flash back that acts as a vehicle to bring us back to Leon's past, when he first met Krauser, and explain us the events that turned Jack into the sinister killer we found in Resident Evil 4. In Operation Javier, the section that narrates Leon and Jack's backstory, we see that Krauser is eventually hit by Manuela's mutated mother, and the wound on his arm is so serious that instantly he realises he will not be able to go on being a mercenary. From that moment and on, something changes inside him; he becomes bitter and pessimistic (although he shows nothing of this to Leon) and by the end of the adventure he has decided to search for Wesker so that he will help him become powerful again. In Resident Evil 4, having already being injected with the virus, he mutates at some point, and his mutated arm looks like a wing.


Anonymous said...

Do you know the name of that Biohazard/Resident 4 painting?

Edward said...

The best part is I beat this game without shaking them off.