Art History in Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

Read the story here

Notes behind the history of Cornwall in The Devil’s Foot

I love the atmosphere found in this story.  While it feels intimate with the misty moors of Cornwall and its ancient past, the global connection between Africa and England looms large over this mystery.  This connection also acts as a foreshadowing device for the plot twist near the story’s conclusion.

On the art history references, I have to give kudos to Granada Television for painting such a fully realized world that Holmes and Watson lived in.  Beyond the term “African curiosities”, the story never specifies if Dr. Leon Sterndale owned African art, but Granada gives this visual aid for that global connection/foreshadowing I already wrote about.  The studio did not stop there.  To further enhance the original story’s strange nature, Granada provided more art history references that I did not expect, but left me pleasantly intrigued while watching.

Doth mine eyes see William Blake during Holmes’s hallucinations?  Since the camera zoomed in for tight up close shots of the subjects’ faces, I will show you their complete form.


William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The History of Nebuchadnezzar and William Blake’s painting

The Body of Abel found by Adam and Eve

William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Two paintings and two clever choices, if you ask me.  They act as symbols to the many layers found in this story.  If you read the World Myths and Legends link that explains the history behind the Nebuchadnezzar painting, it represents the mental state that afflicted everyone who felt the powerful effects of the Devil’s Foot.  I think it even reflected the way Dr. Sterndale viewed himself as (under a prejudiced light) both civilized and wild at the same time due to his stay in Africa.  That descriptions of men with animal features continues with Holmes describing Mortimer Treginnis as having a “foxy face”.  Two Nebuchadnezzar figures in one story.

The second painting, The Body of Abel found by Adam and Eve, obviously paralleled the murders caused by the Devil’s Foot.  The painting even reflects the tragedy behind the murders, which came out of sibling rivalry and revenge.  As with Nebuchadnezzar, the bodies and facial expressions in The Body of Abel matched the people victimized by the drug.  A reason why the filmmakers wanted the viewer to focus on the subject’s faces, and not the whole painting.

Going back to Blake, the artist represented the complete antithesis to Sherlock Holmes’ love for all things rational.  During his lifetime, as the World Myths website points out, Blake believed that people should have kept science from dissecting nature.

ETA: Rewrote a sentence.

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