The opener to the new HBO limited series The Young Pope, about a 47-year-old cigarette-smoking Supreme Pontiff, is one I never fast forward through. Well, for one thing—Jude Law. (And in a white cassock, pellegrina and zucchetto to boot!) And second—Law strides past the history of Catholicism in masterworks. As he reaches each painting, a shooting star enters the frame and animates the work.
The art parade—set to British rapper Devlin’s instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s (All Along) The Watchtower—starts with Gerard van Honthorst’s 17th-century The Adoration of the Shepherds, which was tragically destroyed in 1993, and ends with the 1572 The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which resides at the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne. Then in some episodes, the opener is capped off with the shooting star, which has by now turned into a meteorite, knocking over a waxy looking Pope John Paul II to create, presto!, Maurizio Cattelan’s The 9th Hour. You just know that alludes heavily to the series’ plot. The Intertubes are already peppered with blog posts listing the works.
It is a one-minute-and-twenty-three-second tour de force of art. But the best bit is when Law turns his head, looks you in the eye, and gives you a mischievous wink. #papallove
The lavish production—filmed at Rome’s famed Cinecittà Studios, where the Vatican was painstakingly recreated, and an assortment of villas and public gardens—is filled with art throughout, as you would expect in a TV series that takes place in treasure-laden Vatican City and is directed by Paulo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty). If anyone suffers from Stendhal syndrome, it’s got to be this guy.
Is your art interest piqued? The Young Pope airs Sundays on HBO. Or you can see great Catholic paintings in real life in our Renaissance Gallery.