So I asked Steve Lawes, the Director of Photography on The Empty Hearse, what his inspiration was for the torture scene. His reply was “An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump” by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768
Happens to be one of my favorite paintings. And now we know!
Hey Bee! Tell us about the lights!
Well *deep breath*
OK— My turn! But first— Wright’s painting- what are we looking at?
A travelling scientist is shown demonstrating the formation of a vacuum by withdrawing air from a flask containing a white cockatoo, though common birds like sparrows would normally have been used. Air pumps were developed in the 17th century and were relatively familiar by Wright’s day. The artist’s subject is not scientific invention, but a human drama in a night-time setting.
The bird will die if the demonstrator continues to deprive it of oxygen, and Wright leaves us in doubt as to whether or not the cockatoo will be reprieved. The painting reveals a wide range of individual reactions, from the frightened children, through the reflective philosopher, the excited interest of the youth on the left, to the indifferent young lovers concerned only with each other.
The figures are dramatically lit by a single candle, while in the window the moon appears. On the table in front of the candle is a glass containing [a carious human skull (minus jawbone).] (x)
First thing’s first— notice the circle of light emanating from the two images’ main light sources. The bright bare bulb is parallel to the candlelight on the table in Wright’s painting.
Now. subject matter. The candle in the painting illuminates a decayed skull (minus the jawbone) in a jar of liquid. Notice the stick in the jar. (I’m leaving out 99% of what is so cool about this image, btw.) But look. at. the. stick. Now…
Look at the chains on Sherlock’s right arm. Note the position of the bare bulb. And note the position of the philosopher who’s rapt in the experiment and doesn’t seem to care that a bird is about to be killed or that there is A HUMAN SKULL bathing in front of him. All he’s interested in is the experiment. He’s got a watch in his hands, timing how long the bird has left to live. Sherlock’s position may remind you of a crucifixion (and that’s totally legit) but Lawes is likening him to the anonymous, dehumanized skull in the jar and Mycroft is engrossed in seeing how long the experiment (Sherlock’s torture) can last.
Need I remind you that Mycroft’s code name for Sherlock is “Ugly Duckling”? (x) & (x) Just sayin’.
This says LOADS and LOADS about Mycroft. I’ll leave you to your deductions before I meta the hell out of this.