Unicorn Hunting in Secrets of Dumbledore

Beatrice Groves has talked of the importance of the Asian unicorn – the qilin, and its European equivalent in Secrets of Dumbledore. This is dramatically represented in six paintings of unicorns at battle in the restaurant scene. The clearest images I can find of the final five painting are in the ‘behind the scenes’ trailer posted by Film Riot (hat tip Beatrice!).

Now super sleuth Vincenzo Leone has identified the inspiration behind the first of the paintings (credit again to Dr Groves’s wonderful spot!):

Death of the Consol Publius Decius was painted by Rubens in 1616 as one of a set of eight models for a series of tapestries. The painting depicts the death of Decius in the battle of the republican Romans against the Latins in Italy. At a crucial moment in the battle the Consul sacrifices himself by charging his horse into the enemy as an act of spiritual devotion foretold in a prophetic dream.

Do any of the other paintings seem familiar? Let me know in the comments down below.


  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    No obvious short-cut (at least to my eye) via Wikipedia’s category “Baroque paintings of war” (much less any of the other “Paintings of war by period” categories) – though a couple of the August Querfurt ones there seem in keeping with that still of four paintings in terms of palette, especially as to skies…

    A fascinating Wizarding World development with respect to paintings, in any case… Teutonic grandiosity in contrast to Hogwarts variety?

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    ‘Still with four more paintings’ (!)… none the wiser from the various clips in the Behind the Scenes film, but a lot more tantalized! I wonder how much – if any – ‘mash up’ there may be in the production of the paintings? E.g., blathering a bit, the further one gets to the right of that still, the more Turneresque the skies, though number three (from the right and left: with the rather ‘bat-winged’ figure) somehow makes me think of Gustave Doré (but no quick single Doré ‘matches’ can I find)…

  3. This is great, Nick, as always!

    My default take on the Davids is that they are the embodiment of the problem with the films, which is to say, they represent the studio, the big money behind blockbuster movies, and the necessity that it be written within the screenwriter’s guild formula for such productions.

    [Cat saved? Check. Chase scene? Check. Second and third chase scenes? Two checks. Seeming fail followed by miraculous turn-around and victory? (yawn) Checks. Chinese fantastic beasts as sop to the CCP censors? Oh, yeah. And take out the gay bits for them, too, okay? Done.]

    But this behind-the-scenes film highlights the respect the players have for David Yates and I have to doubt my own flip judgments rather than their sober assessments of the man they know and have worked with. The man knows what he is doing, and, if he is responsible for the loss of Rowling story that we experience in every one of these movies due to his editing, etc., it is refreshing to hear he is both pleasant to work with and challenging in a professional and productive way with his players.

    Point at hand – the paintings discussed in this post. (They are visible just after 1:00 and at 6:40 in the video; the second appearance seems to have been spliced into a Jacob and Lallie battle with bad guys.) I’m guessing that Rowling or Kloves specified in their script(s) that the paintings should be heroic-sized and themed, Romantic battle scenes featuring unicorns. And there they are. No one but someone determined to be faithful to the screenplay would have gone to the effort to have insisted on these remarkable but still just background pictures that only the super-attentive and slow-motion viewers on repeat visits to the theater or with DVD will ever notice consciously.

    That speaks to someone much more dedicated to craft than I have given the man credit for. The unicorn theme is ever so subtly advanced and buttressed by this visible perumbration and that is no small thing. Hats off from this reflexively negative reviewer to Yates and company for their creation of sets that visually attempt at leastto create a story experience akin to an imaginative one.

    And, again, hats off to you, Nick (and Bea), for this fascinating revelation!

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Who might one interview, if given the Behind the Scenes opportunity? Looking at the “Full […] Crew” list at IMDB, I assume the Art Department is the most likely place to seek who was responsible in what ways for the production-in-detail of all the paintings,* but – among the dozens of different titles, I find myself too ignorant of both titles and people to begin to guess who probably had what hand in it. E.g., how likely is Philip Clark as “art department researcher” (on all the FBs, so far) to have crucial responsibilities, here? Or Anna Joyce Pinnock – “a younger sister of conductor Trevor Pinnock” and therewith “Fourth child and second daughter of publisher Kenneth Alfred Thomas Pinnock and amateur singer Joyce Edith Pinnock (nee Muggleton)” – as “Set Decorator” (also on all three FBs)?

    *How many are there, in all? In the relevant Behind the Scenes clips all the walls in that hall seemed to have some….(!)

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Well, a more careful rewatching shows me I got that wrong – the other four walls do not have paintings: I note glimpses at 45-48 secs, 1:02-04, 4:46-53, 5:36-39, 6:31-7:03. That last one has fascinating contrasts between the lighting during filming and the ‘finished product’, which gives a very different impression of ‘palette’…

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Tangentially, do the figures in these paintings remain still, unlike those at Hogwarts? And, further tangentially, do we know if JKR knows M.R. James’s posthumously published story, “A Night in King’s College Chapel”? I didn’t, until a few minutes ago, but its comical (dream-)play with the figures in some of the stained-glass windows coming alive and moving about between the windows reminded me of Hogwarts – and made me realize how woefully ignorant I am of the history and range of the topos or theme of ‘figures in windows and/or paintings coming alive’.

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