Walt Disney artists have always created masterpieces that made us dream. Like all girls and with a brother younger than me, I can truly say that I have seen and re-watched almost all Disney cartoons a thousand times. As I grew older, I also began to notice the art history references hidden within. And there are many. I’m Clelia and today we discover 23 hidden works of art in Disney cartoons.
HERCULES | Artwork in Disney Cartoons
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
It’s one of my favorite movies since I was a child and we all know that there are references to Greek and Roman culture. The story tells of Hercules who was born on Mount Olympus to Zeus and Hera and then was kidnapped by Hades in order to overthrow his brother on the throne of the gods. As an adult Hercules goes in search of his real parents and receives the revelation of his origins directly from one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the statue of Zeus, created by Phidias around 435 BC for the temple in Olympia and then destroyed.
St. Peter’s Square in Rome
The references in Hercules maybe not always super accurate, but still fun to find. In the scene where he and Amphitryon go to the market, Hercules accidentally destroys a square. And from above, its shape cannot go unnoticed. It is a reproduction of Piazza San Pietro in Rome, with a difference of a few thousand years. In reality, in fact, the square was built in Rome in 1675 and is part of the Vatican City. It was designed by Bernini and consists of 4 colonnades of 284 columns and 88 pillars.
Venus de Milo
And if you’ve ever wondered how the Venus de Milo lost her arms, Disney has her own version. In the scene where Hercules and Megara are flirting he throws a stone on the water of a fountain hitting a Venus identical to the one now in the Louvre and because of him both arms fall off. The two are not at all repentant and come up with “It seems better this way”.
The fresco of Spring and the Caratids
Two other interesting but much less known references in the film are the fresco of Spring of Santorini, one of the very few frescoes from the Mycenaean age that have come down to us intact. It’s on the wall of Hercules’ adoptive parents’ house in the scene where they tell him they found it. Which makes us believe that they were the first inhabitants of the house that has come down to us. And the second is obviously the Caryatids who also transform into the muses and who tell us the whole story.
Great Sphinx of Giza
How did the Great Sphinx of Giza lose his nose? Disney also in this case gives us its interpretation. Aladdin and Jasmine are on the flying carpet in the scene where the world is theirs. Except that flying carpets weren’t seen many in Egypt so they distract the sculptor who is working on the Sphinx who combines a disaster and accidentally detaches his nose. Again a fantastic citation of the ancient world.
MULAN | Works of art in Disney cartoons
Taking a leap to the other side of the world, the film Mulan also gives us some incredible insights into Chinese culture. But we are looking for works of art and I am sure that this quote will not have escaped many of you. Although in fact set in China, in the scene in which the girl’s ancestors are awakened, two of them interpret the very famous work American Gothic by Grant Wood from 1930. It is a quote absolutely out of context but it is not surprising that it was used today as this one of the most iconic works of 20th century American art.
In fact, it also appears in another Disney classic, one of my all-time favorite films and which I have watched and re-watched a thousand times on those feverish winter days where you just want to stay under the covers.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
This, together with another Disney film on this list, is certainly the one with the most artistic references. First of all precisely American Gothic which also appears here and also in this case is reinterpreted by two of the characters Mis Brick and Tockins during the song “Human again”.
Girl with a turban and Portrait of a man
But the surprises for art lovers like us are not finished. In fact, the creators of Disney always like to leave hidden quotes in their films. And one of the best of is the appearance of Girl with a Turban or Girl with a Pearl Earring. Oh yes, it is hanging from one of the walls of the castle of the Beast. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever noticed this because in my opinion this is the best quote ever. The castle has an immense library and many works especially in the hidden and inaccessible wing to Belle. And next to Vermeer’s painting, another quite famous one could also be recognized: The Portrait of a Man by Rembrandt, now kept at the MET in New York.
And that’s not all. Two other iconic works are mentioned in the cartoon. In fact, during the song “Stia con noi” Lumière and the other objects in the house try to entice Belle to eat and enjoy her time in the castle. Lumière exclaims that this is France after all so the silverware and plates transform into the Eiffel Tower.
The betrayal of images
Finally, another subtle appearance but full of meaning appears during the song in which Belle, wandering through the town’s library, makes it clear that she is a different girl from the others. Going out on the sign we find Magritte: “The betrayal of images”. It probably wants to be an analogy between what we see in Belle, a beautiful girl and what she wants to demonstrate. The fact that one can be both beautiful and intelligent. We must therefore not stop at appearances.
THE LITTLE MERMAID | Works of art in Disney cartoons
Magdalene with flame
And among the Disney princesses and heroines, Belle is not the only one to talk about her passions. Ariel, in fact, during the scene in her cave of wonders, not only plays the part of the collector par excellence because she wonders who in the world has more riches than her, but also shows a truly recognizable one. It is the Magdalene with flame by Georges de la Tour made in the middle of the 1600s and now kept in the Louvre. Of course as a child I rightly never wondered how an oil on canvas could survive underwater, but over the years I find it a wonderful reference to art given that the painting shows a flame that should really go out.
Disney stories are too loved to be forgotten, which leads us to want to discover their secrets even after years. And one of the cartoons that I have to be honest I haven’t seen in years because it has never been one of my favorites but it’s a great classic and contains a work of art that is itself a great classic is Pinocchio. In the scene where the children in Toyland are allowed to play any mischief, you enter what clearly looks like a museum and Candlewick lights his cigar in front of the Mona Lisa, which poor thing has just been vandalized.
Freedom from need
The creators of Disney characters may have abandoned pencils and colors for graphics tablets and digital, but certainly not everything has changed, including their passion for American works of art. And the next film proves it. In the credits of Lilo&Stich among the various photos of the new family there is also an image of a typical Thanksgiving Day, clearly inspired by the work Freedom from Need of 1943 by the American artist Norman Rockwell.
FROZEN | Works of art in Disney cartoons
Here is the other Disney masterpiece full of references to art par excellence. In Frozen, after the disappearance of their parents, the two protagonist sisters Anna and Elsa should try to move on and face their loneliness. But each one reacts in a personal way. And while Elsa is naturally frightened by her powers and tries to isolate herself as much as possible, Anna instead continues as she did as a child to wander around the castle. And on the day of the coronation, during the song “Today for the first time” we discover all the masterpieces of the family collection.
Dance of the Peasants
The first painting in the gallery shows a young woman dancing with a man in a party scene. Reminiscent Dance of the Peasants from 1567. In the cartoon, both this and subsequent paintings are not an exact replica but a fictionalized version of the artwork.
The entire theme of this collection is in fact love. All the paintings reproduce couples in love. In the following work we find The Picnic by Auguste Serrure but in a version seen from above. And the original can only be recognized by the clothes of the protagonists, identical in the cartoon.
The dancing couple
And Anna is a dreamer in search of true love, therefore the hand kiss so common in various Dutch works of the 17th and 18th centuries becomes the protagonist of the following work. Very similar to that of Gerard Ter Borchdal entitled The dancing couple.
The theme of dance in art is also really widespread and this time in Frozen there is a real and proper quotation from an original: The casino by John Singer Sargent of 1882. Anna reproduces the exact same pose of the ballerina, but this time accompanied.
The lucky cases of
And finally, the scene closes with Fragonard’s swing. I’m sure any art lover like us jumped on their seat as soon as they saw this scene in the film. In fact, the analogy with the original is not only clear but it is really perfect.
The starry night
Not all the artistic quotations that I have noticed in Disney films have entered this list by right, because some are probably less obvious than others. However, one cannot fail to mention Rapunzel’s passion for painting. In fact, forced to remain segregated in her tower, among the many hobbies the girl also loves to paint the walls of the house. And among the different styles with which he creates his works, some are clearly inspired by Van Gogh, such as the one that recalls The Starry Night.
SNOW WHITE | Works of art in Disney cartoons
Alcázar of Segovia
The last two works hidden in a Disney film we discover in what I really think is the first cartoon seen by all of us. We know the story of the beautiful Snow White and apparently there are certainly no works of art in the house of the seven dwarfs. But the castle really exists in reality and is located in Spain. It is the Alcázar of Segovia. This castle was the home of Queen Isabella of Castile, who financed Columbus’ voyages. However, the queen who also massacred and expelled Jews and Muslims from her kingdom. It is not cited as a direct source for the Evil Queen, but let’s say that there are grounds for hypothesizing it.
The statue of Uta
The physical appearance of Snow White’s stepmother, however, has an explicit precedent in art: the German statue of Uta in the church of Naumberg in Germany. The idea for the world’s most famous witch collar was taken from her.
These are just some of the artworks I was able to find in my favorite Disney movies, but I’m sure there are more and if you know them, let me know in the comments of the video. And if you liked this post I suggest you take a look at my channel Youtube or follow me on Instagram @artnthecities. Or if you are looking for absurd and interesting stories I suggest my post about art thefts in strangest
Thanks and see you next time!