Emerald Fennell’s 2023 black comedy and psychological thriller film, “Saltburn,” has left audiences captivated not only by its intriguing storyline and all-star cast but also by its visually stunning art references. Set in England in 2007, the movie takes viewers on a journey from Oxford University to the eccentric world of a wealthy family’s estate, where obsession and intrigue take center stage.
One of the most striking aspects of Saltburn is its visual aesthetic. Some stills from the film appear as though they were plucked directly from the Louvre, transporting viewers into a world that feels like a living painting, albeit one firmly rooted in the year 2007.
The film is replete with references to art, with the works of renowned painter Caravaggio serving as a significant inspiration. The use of Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro lighting techniques, adds depth and intensity to many scenes, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the great master’s work. One of the standout moments in Saltburn is the karaoke scene, which transports viewers to a setting that feels as if people are gathered for a traditional portrait sitting. The lighting in this scene is Carravagio-esque, however, rather than a fire causing the dramatic lighting effects on the sitters it is the karaoke machine casting the ethereal glow.
British traditional portraiture, exemplified by artists like Thomas Gainsborough, also plays a pivotal role in influencing the film’s formal sitting scenes. Characters are portrayed in a manner that evokes the elegance and sophistication of the era.
In addition to portraiture, Saltburn features still-life scenes that resemble Renaissance paintings. However, upon closer inspection, viewers discover that the objects depicted are not the typical fruits or flowers but rather redbull cans and old packets of crisps—symbols of mid-2000s memorabilia. It’s a testament to the film’s ability to transform seemingly mundane items into something beautiful when placed together in the context of the narrative.
In Saltburn, art isn’t just a backdrop; it’s an integral part of the storytelling. The film’s skillful use of art references, from Caravaggio’s lighting techniques to the echoes of traditional portraiture, adds layers of depth and meaning to the narrative. The result is a cinematic experience that feels like a living work of art, where every frame is carefully crafted to immerse the audience between the ancient past to the y2k.