Art History in Popular Culture

Art History appears frequently in popular literature, movies and other media.  Here are some good examples.  Of course, we all know about Dan Brown’s novels (The da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and Symbols), but there are many other (and better!) examples out there!


If you know of any other good examples, email me!

Let’s get Dan Brown out of the way at the top.  Love him or hate him (I am more in the later camp...), he is the biggest player on this small stage.  The Da Vinci Code is certainly better than Angels and Demons, which he published first.  It was reprinted after the wild success of The Da Vinci Code.  I can’t work up the interest to read his latest:

Next most prominent is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (surely a nom de plume, if ever I heard one!), and the knock-off by Susan Vreeland, Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

Now, with that out of the way, we can move on to some really excellent novels!  Top of my list would be My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk.  He won a Nobel Prize for his novel Snow (which awaits me on my bookshelf).  My Name is Red is a murder-mystery set in  in a manuscript scriptorium in 16th-century Istanbul.  I found that the mystery was of less interest that Pamuk’s stunning descriptions of the paintings and objects at the core of the murders.  Try it.  The first chapter is narrated by a drawing of a cartoon dog.  You can’t go wrong from there.

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco, has the advantage of being written by a very serious, well-respected medievalist, with many celebrated academic texts to his name, as well as a string of excellent, cerebral novels.  This one is more accessible than Foucault’s Pendulum, thought both are similar in their tone.  Name of the Rose is a murder mystery set in a medieval monastery and, like My Name is Red, features many wonderful descriptions of medieval manuscripts, though here the mystery is as compelling as the prose.  In the movie, the protagonist monks are played by Sean Connery and Christian Slater, and is great fun.  Trust me -- skip the Da Vinci Code movies, and watch this one instead.

If you are up for a mighty tome of a book, a century-spanning epic, then Pillars of the Earth is for you.  It is a magisterial novel set around the building of a cathedral in twelfth-century England.  His sequel, written twenty years later, picks up where Pillars ends.

The rest are novels I read and enjoyed or have on my list of to-reads.  Let me know what good ones I haven’t included, and I’ll happily add them in!