Where Did They Come Up With The Painting at the Heart of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”?


Painted for the film by artist Michael Taylor, it is stylistically attributed in the film to the artist Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger. In his analysis of this fictitious “masterpiece,” Jonathan Jones of the Guardian says it has “much in common with other masters of the Renaissance in northern Europe…the boy’s extravagantly crooked fingers resembles drawings by German artist Albrecht Dürer – in particular a self-portrait sketch in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, in which he displays almost precisely the same hand gesture…An enigmatic message behind a curtain is reminiscent of similarly portentous objects in such Renaissance masterpieces as Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of the merchant Georg Giese surrounded with the stuff of trade, or the emblems of greed and vanity with which Quentin Metsys accuses the couple in his picture The Moneylender and His Wife. The moral emblem at the heart of Van Hoytl the Younger’s painting is of course the oldest of all Judaeo-Christian symbolic objects: the apple with which the serpent tempted Eve.

“So this portrait is a study in temptation, and as such it is inflected with a sensuality typical of mannerist art. In 16th-century Europe, artists bored by the classical rules of the Renaissance portrayed the human figure in a more ‘mannered’ way, stretching out limbs and necks, distorting poses. This youth’s long fingers are typically mannerist. So much about him – his short hair, finely clad form, those hints of depravity – echoes the mannerist genius Bronzino. It’s not hard to work out how such a painting found its way into an art collection in central Europe. The eccentric Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II, who filled his palace in Prague with curiosities, lured many Dutch and Flemish mannerists to his mad court. The Habsburgs were the greatest art patrons of the Renaissance, and the heritage they left behind is rich in masterpieces of Boy with Apple‘s ilk. This is exactly the kind of painting you can expect to see in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Szépművészeti Múzeum in Budapest or the picture gallery of Prague Castle. Boy with Apple really is priceless, as an art history in-joke. The punchline, however, comes when the film’s villain realises it is missing. In its place hangs a watercolour of lesbian lovers by real-life Austrian genius Egon Schiele. In his rage at losing a completely fictional work of 16th-century art, the character smashes this modern treasure over a chair.”