Villanelle’s Postcard

One of my favorite shows at the moment is Killing Eve. It’s a thrilling comedy about a psychopathic assassin named Villanelle (played by Jodie Comer) who has a reciprocated interest in the member of the British Intelligence Agency, Eve (Sandra Oh), who is trying to track her down. It’s fantastic and I highly recommend it if you need a good show to binge! I was watching Season 2 Episode 4 of this marvelous series and found a hidden art history gem that, though being quite dark, brings so much to the plot.

CONTENT WARNING: This post contains sensitive images related to torture and death that might elicit a strong or potentially harmful emotional response.

The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers, Jan de Baen

Villanelle awaits her next ordered murder in Amsterdam, filling her days with hotel room service and “boring” art galleries. While walking through The Rijksmuseum and complaining that every piece of art is “just grapes on naked women”, one work catches her eye. Jan de Baen’s The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers, painted c. 1672 – c. 1675 is a gruesome scene of Johan and Cornelius de Witt being publicly humiliated and tortured by their political opponents. Villanelle casually remarks that the flayed men look like bacon. She purchases a postcard of the painting to send to Eve, to ensure that neither of them has forgotten about the other.

It would make sense that an assassin who has a particular flair for the gruesome would be interested in a painting like this, but knowing that the people in the painting have been flayed by those who want to publicly disgrace them gives us as the viewers so much more of an insight to Villanelle’s next murder. Can you guess? She, donned in a pig’s mask, hangs a cheating husband upside down in a brothel window and guts him as if he were in a butcher shop. I didn’t guess that either, but in looking into this painting, it makes an abundance of sense (I mean, for a murderer).

Quite violent? Yes. Super fascinating? Yes! Not because I endorse murder in any way, but this is fascinating because of the meticulous nature in which she chose how to kill this man. Initially, I was confused about the pig attire, but then I remembered that Villanelle compared the flayed de Witt brothers to pieces of bacon. She obviously drew heavily from de Baen’s work, evidenced by the similarity in the position of the bodies in his painting and the manner in which she killed the cheating husband. Not only is the murder the same, but the setting is the same. The de Witt brothers were executed by political opposition in order to humiliate them in a very public display, and the man is hung in the brothel window with his wife watching, as well as several passersby, so he is humiliated to the point of death. To add to all of this, the postcard, sent to the British Intelligence Agency, is a direct giveaway that this murder could be claimed by Villanelle.

Not a very cheery example of art history in television, but still fun to spot nonetheless! What are your favorite art history references in tv? Let me know in the comments!


Featured Image from W Magazine 

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