The Mt. Vesuvius Connection



Napolitano Postcard, WITH STATUE OF AUGUSTUS CAESAR (????, 19??(POSTCARD)-????, 1936/1ST CENTURY(?) (STATUE))

As for the statue:

  • It’s an ancient statue of Augustus Caesar, looking out at Mt. Vesuvius, in Naples. Here’s an analysis of the statue, and of the dramatic scenes depicted on Caesar’s breastplate.
  • It was a gift from Mussolini to Naples in 1936, replacing a bust of a 9th century Italian naval hero that was there before, Cesario Console (AKA Caesar of Naples, AKA Caesar the Brave) and which the adjoining street is still named after (in fact the other wraparound streets are also named for Italian naval heroes). What I thought was a neat coincidence was the graffiti at the base (lower right box), which reads Rocky, twice (The Shining has a few subtle connections to the film Rocky).

As for the postcard:

  • Did the Torrances take a trip to Naples, after Jack became jobless? Seems, dare I say, unlikely. But what, if anything, would be the rational explanation for its coveted wedged-sideways-into-the-fridge-decal position? Did they pick it up at some 50 cent store, and are using it to feel faux-cosmopolitan? Do they wish they were part of the jet set? Did a friend send it to them? The same one who would’ve sent them the copy of Julius Caesar’s biography by Christian Meier (only available in English by 1982)? Jack has a copy of Shakespeare in Russian, so this wouldn’t be totally left-field.
  • The postcard seems to either be for the area of Naples known as Santa Lucia (where the Caesar statue is located), or possibly for the greater Naples area, since one part is almost certainly showing the Galleria Umberto I (the dome), and another might be showing an aspect of Castel Nuovo (the pillar). I’m honestly not sure. Below is the most recent pre-1980 postcard I could find in this style, and it’s from around 30 years earlier. And it’s of Venice.
  • Either way, it’s worth noting that Saint Lucy (for whom the area’s named) has the same feast day as Jack and Hallorann’s death day, December 13th, which happens to be the day in the mirrorform here (she was also the patron saint of authors and stained glass makers!).
  • Also, the 9th deadliest flood ever was St. Lucia’s Flood. It was apparently so named for occurring on December 14th, the day after her feast day, in the year 1287 (Jack’s frozen corpse in the hedge maze is, presumably, being seen the day after his own death). The song that starts the film, Dies Irae, was thought to have been originally composed in the 13th century, either by a man who died in 1265 or one who died in 1294 CE. If the latter, then it’s conceivable that St. Lucia’s Flood inspired or influenced the composition. More significantly, how similar is that to the fact that Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, killing all the people of Herculaneum, when Vesuvius was thought to itself be infused with the spirit of Hercules? That’s two major mythological characters connected to two major natural disasters. That said, if you look into the earliest 30-40 floods in recorded history, this tradition of naming them after saints was fairly commonplace from the 1200s to the 1600s.
  • This postcard shares the same space as the clew (the blue twine ball on the shelf to Wendy’s left) that certainly refers to Theseus and the Minotaur, whose exploits took place in Knossos, on the island of Crete. Both Naples and Crete were part of the same Roman empire at the time of the myth’s popularity.

This is another of my post-final-site-edit discoveries. Just a heads-up, this is a lengthy analysis of this piece’s significance, to make up for where it might be missing in other analyses throughout this site.

First off, a necessary disclaimer: the official image for this piece on Wikipedia is the horizontal mirror image of what you’re seeing above. It was only because I’ve trained my eye to recognize the mirror images of the remaining 35 mystery paintings/sketches that I even knew this to be what I think it definitely is. Doing an image search on the mirror version, I’ve found that there are indeed several posted versions of the mirror image online. These are certainly (unless Wikipedia is somehow mistaken) created by the same simple process I used to make mine, but it’s interesting to see that several others took the trouble to make them. My guess about Kubrick’s is that it was made by whoever made the fake SKI MONARCH poster, or the reproduction of The Cowboy. And as you can see in the image above, it’s almost impossible to tell that it is the image in question. Like The Battle of Sister’s Creek, there’s a clever confusion of shadows in the image that, when poorly lit, make it hard to recognize. The film version looks like a solid zig-zag of darkness against the darkening sky, but in the true piece, we see that it’s the three figures standing what seems to be way too close to the lava that create that sense of continuity between the volcano peak and the next rise of stone, below. This helps create the yin-yang shape that I’m trying to highlight by showing it against the upside down image. In the upside down painting, the sky creates a kind of negative space Vesuvius, complete with that whiff of white smoke going up and to the opposite direction as the volcano fire is blowing in the right-side-up version. I wonder if this was meant to suggest the inverted nature of the mountain against its supposed purpose: Vesuvius was regarded as a guardian spirit in the past, but all it’s done historically is erupt and wipe people out.

The other reason I discovered this piece was because I’d felt (and still feel as of this writing) that I’d narrowed down another piece in room 237 to depicting the Bay of Naples, with Vesuvius possibly/likely in the distance. I haven’t confirmed that one yet, but I hope to soon (I’ve actually ID’d another Vesuvius piece in the BJ well, so it’s seeming increasingly likely). If that proves to be the case, then the first appearance of Vesuvius will be 5:05 away from the second. And if the first depiction doesn’t feature a major eruption, then the second depiction could signify the no-going-back nature of 237.

So, what’s with all these gushing calderas? The first thing to point out is where the name Vesuvius comes from, because it might slightly tie into another major theory of mine. Vesuvius means “Son of Ves” and Ves was another way of understanding “Zeus” (in his form as the god of rains and dews). So Hercules/Herakles is the “son of the rains”, and what was it that created the biblical flood? When Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, wiping out Pompeii, it also wiped out Herculaneum, another town in the shadow of the volcano. So “Hercules” erupted and wiped out “Hercules Land”. If my pillars of Hercules theory is correct (basically that prehistoric global flooding lead to a transition from female deity dominance to male deity dominance among early human cultures, and that Herakles/Hercules may be the poetic expression of this fact), it’s a pretty spectacular coincidence that the demigod invented to explain this transition was himself connected to a natural disaster that wiped out his own namesake. Especially given the origin of his myth, where he slaughters his wife and children upon learning of his supernatural lineage. Although, I suppose you could argue that the people who named these places had a sense that the volcano could one day destroy the city, and chose those names precisely because of Hercules’ self-destructive tendencies. The site may’ve also been a seaside getaway for the Caesars, and featured artworks about Theseus (of killing the minotaur fame) and Apollo (of the moon landing fame).

Mount Vesuvius was considered a Genius-type divinity, meaning that it was seen as something of a guardian angel, or infusing spirit, but for what I’m not sure. Was it the guardian of the general area it was situated in? Did people feel the spirit of Herakles in it, and in the surrounding lands? In any case, it seems like Vesuvius was to its time and place, what Tony is to Danny. So perhaps the fact that the mountain might first appear in room 237 speaks to Tony’s failure to stop Danny from being hurt by the 237 ghost, and to the notion that Tony allowed this because Danny had to experience the four bird lesson key in order to survive the total ordeal. What’s also strange about that is that of the two I know to contain Vesuvius, and of the (at most) six others I suspect still might have a connection to the mountain, only one of those (and it’s the least likely) is ever in the same shot with Danny. So, if Kubrick is using Vesuvius to think about the Genius of things, he’s certainly keeping it away from Danny. But perhaps that’s because of the connection to Hercules’ familicidal tendencies. Also, note how one theory about its etymology includes the word “shine” as in “the one who lightens”. And one of the most famous people to die in the 79 AD eruption was one of two Tonys, the son of another Tony (along with his mother). Antonius Felix, and his daughter Antonia survived. Similar to that, the most famous figure to perish was Pliny the Elder, which we know because his nephew Pliny the Younger, stayed behind on his uncle’s rescue mission, then wrote about the event. So there’s two instances of close relatives with similar names dying and surviving the event, age dynamics reversed. Similarly, Jack dies and Danny survives, Jack being the older, but having the mindset/cognitive capacity of the younger.

The last major eruption before the most destructive eruption, of 79 AD was possibly in 217 BC. And one such painting might be in room 237 (named 217 in the books). And its most recent eruption as of this writing was in March of 1944, while WWII raged on in Italy.


As for the specific piece appearing in the film, I think it’s neat how Hackert, who experienced the 1774 eruption firsthand, seemed to minimize the awesomeness of the event, by showing people leaning on their walking sticks, reclining in conversation with others, and some looking away, as if they’d seen it all before. Meanwhile, he thought to put in some figures right up where the main lava flow was issuing from the side of the beast, mere inches from lethal heat and magma. You can see a few others climbing up the side still, to meet their friends (reminds of Danny’s risky voyage into 237, and of Dog, Boy, and St. John River–especially since this piece also involves a little doggo companion to the tri-cornered hat man). There’s a subtle naturalizing of the event in this depiction, whereas so many other depictions of Vesuvius show leagues of terrified farmers and the like bowing and kneeling in despair at the volcano’s force (to be fair, Hackert also did this later on). And many others still romanticize the awesomeness of the eruption’s visual nature, creating something like a heaven/hell on earth. Hackert’s vision feels practically documentarian compared to most, and his yin-yang compositional form inserts a gentle symbolism about the relationship between the earth and the heavens.

As for Hackert, he tutored a Tony of a sort in Balthasar Anton Dunker, and he became good friends with Goethe, who wrote a biography of Hackert in 1811. Goethe famously wrote the tragedy Faust, which has numerous other oblique references in the film, but perhaps most notably in Ullman’s Red Book. I would say this reference makes for a very close second, though.

As for using Hackert’s 1774 painting over his 1779 painting of Vesuvius, I think it’s interesting that Kubrick would go with the one just before American Independence, rather than the one right after. 1774 saw the Americans setting up their government against the British in secret. I can’t find any indication that anyone knows exactly what month or day Vesuvius erupted in in 1774, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. What’s interesting is that this painting gives us a touchstone for that year, The Battle of Sister’s Creek gives us one for the following year, and Jack’s death photo gives us a reference to 1776, the birth of the country. One of the John Webber paintings in the hall was composed in 1778, so if we can find something from 1777 we’ll have a good run of American Independence references.

It is, obviously, also interesting that the Overlook, situated on Mount Hood, not far from Mount St. Helens, would adorn its building with volcano imagery, as if trying to keep people off kilter.

And just in case I neglect to add this insight to my other studies, this painting only appears on screen once in the entire film, for four seconds, right after Hallorann’s blocked distress call, and just above a side table with a white ewer on top, which may feature a cross shape on it. I’m not sure what the triangular piece beside it signifies, if anything, but it looks like a little clock, perhaps. There’s a painting in 237 of a backlit white vase, holding a bouquet, and it hangs next to the might-be-Vesuvius painting, so this would create a thematic bridge between the rooms, if nothing else. Oh, that scene also features The Awakening/Dream of Jacob on the soundtrack, and here we have a Jacob Hackert painting.

In the mirrorform, this piece appears over Jack seeing Lloyd for the first time, and greeting him. Is this Jack’s first instance of greeting his Hercules Genius?

Though, here’s a wild, possibly totally coincidental connection. Hackert was the court painter for Ferdinand IV, who founded the House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. As the House of Bourbon fell to Napoleon, Hackert’s fortunes fell with it. Lloyd will serve Jack some Jack Daniel’s, which that company defines as whiskey, but the alcohol is considered bourbon by professional standards. When Jack comes to Lloyd the second time and Lloyd asks what he’d like, and Jack says, “Hair a the dog that bit me!” Lloyd replies, “Bourbon on the rocks!” and serves him Jack Daniel’s. Napoleon put the House of Bourbon on the rocks, and that house did recover to become (possibly) the second oldest dynasty on earth today (as much as 1464 years old today), second only to the Imperial House of Japan, by 15 years. So perhaps the Overlook isn’t the only dynasty Jack’s trying to hitch his wagon to.

Oh, and if I am right about the 237 Vesuvius, the mirrorform for that moment shows that piece floating inside Jack’s head while Wendy tells the tale about a crazy woman who tried to strangle Danny, and while the still life with the white vase floats inside Wendy’s head. So, these two mirrorform touches would seem to suggest Vesuvius equals Jack.

I should also point out (in case I can never nail down other members of the group whose work features in the film–though my gut says it’s just a matter of time), that Hackert was to the School of Posillipo what Tom Thomson was to the Group of Seven, a spiritual progenitor whose work informed the formation of a loose society of artists, with a united effort to create landscapes. So we don’t just have one, and we don’t just have Canadian groups of painters featured in the film.

The two as yet unattributed Naples paintings in the film (the one in 237 and the one in the BJ well) both depict Posillipo from different angles. Posillipo means “respite from worry”, so it’s funny that we would see these paintings at moments of greatest dread for our protagonists. Though it’s interesting that in the mirrorform for those two moments, Jack and Danny are both in moments connected to turning to their supernatural buddy, their “genius” self, Lloyd and Tony, for respite from a kind of worry. Danny wants to know what’s so bad about the hotel, Jack wants to know that he isn’t the monster some part of him knows he is.

Also, if you followed and read that last link, you might agree the name’s meaning was somewhat undercut by the fact that one of the area’s most notorious residents, Vedius Pollio, fed his slaves to moray eels as punishment for wrongdoing, which lead another of the areas residents, Augustus Caesar, who was visiting Pollio, to rescue the slave from that fate, and to commit the same crime as the slave had done en masse: he broke all of Pollio’s drinking cups. This, apparently, was quite an event for ethics scholars of the day, but even the great champion of human suffering, Adam Smith, embellished details about the event to prove that slavery is kinder under monarchy than democracy (why would a capitalist want to undermine democracy and soften slavery in the same fell swoop? It just doesn’t make any sense…).

Anyhow, that name “respite from worry” reminded me of the alternative title for Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. While it’s true that Posillipo has itself remained untouched by the genocidal effects of Vesuvius, many depictions of the area show the volcano off in the distance, smoking or blowing hot magma into the air. So perhaps Kubrick’s long been making the point that proximity to ultimate destruction, whether it’s war, genocide, extinction or omnicide, has a kind of absurd relativity effect on the minds of those closest to the worst possible power. You don’t have to be a Chomsky scholar to know that “some of the accounts [of how close we’ve all come to terminal disaster over the past century] are quite hair-raising”. So Dr. Strangelove shows us how, the people most able to control whether humanity vanishes from the face of the earth in a cloak of ash can behave as if it weren’t really as bad as all that, just as the Posilliponians can sit and watch Pompeii and Herculaneum get wiped out again and again from their lawn chairs, and just like all of us engaged in the current climate crisis (which is all of us) can opine on Facebook about how the next most disenfranchised people below us in society probably deserve whatever fallout they’re experiencing. In The Shining, the desire for respite from worry is exactly what leads to a numbing oversensitivity. This is another way in which Wendy is awesome: though she certainly should’ve gotten while the getting was good, she never collapses into this false security, or numbness. She only sleeps when she has good reason to think Jack’s taken care of, which is only after she’s nearly murdered him. When REDRUM wakes her from sleep, she’s right back into the game of survival.

And yes, there is a delicious point to be made about what this says about the sex act, and its function in human existence. All the (known) Vesuvius paintings hang just outside bedrooms (the Suite 3 one being the most obscure to the bed itself), and the Son of the Rains and Dews did slaughter his mortal family. So on the one hand it seems to say that we, like volcanos, need to release our stress and pressure from time to time (not to mention how we need to embrace our need to do so), or else the effect of all the pent up need to release can be too disastrous. Alcides murdered his family partly from the stress of realizing that he was not simply mortal, but a semi-immortal demigod, and that separation is not simply symbolic. I don’t think he killed them as a token, but as a kind of moral/scientific exploration of his newfound eternality. If I’m eternal, and everything around me is less eternal, does it matter when I destroy those less eternal things, my connection to those things? What Herc learns is, yes, it very much matters. The creation and destruction of things in the mortal plane is still very significant, even to we wise ones, we sapiens, unique in our awareness of our im/mortality. And like Hackert’s early volcanologists, it’s good that we should get up close, and stick our faces in these things. Figure out how to release the pressure before we blow ourselves to smithereens.

Mystery Naples/Vesuvius Painting – (????, ????)

In room 237 there’s an unidentified piece that for a long time I thought was more landscape than portrait. Then I did a little math with the red lines and the wallpaper to discover it is portrait, which narrows the candidacy some, to pieces like the Raffaele Carelli painting you see in at the bottom right. But you can also see the skyline in the piece, which resembles many, many other depictions of the Bay of Naples from this general perspective (purple box). What I’ve since discovered is that there’s a large number of paintings of Naples and Vesuvius (dozens, maybe more), which are all, at the compositional level, identical to the piece in the film, but only if you cut off the rightmost third of the image. See that cluster of images around the green box one (showing the painting in the film stretched out to the size it should be from the front)? Those are some of the best candidates, some of which are by recognized artists, some of which are anonymous, and none of which are exactly what’s in the film. If you took elements from each, you could cobble together the one in the film, which is why I don’t suspect this to be a fabrication (though it could be), but rather a more obscure example of what was clearly a popular assignment at the School of Posillipo in the 1700s.

It was from researching this piece that I identified a different painting in the film, which makes me believe I’ve nailed the subject matter. But until I have my breakthrough (if it even matters that I do), check out that other piece.


Now, I’m not 1000% that this is the same piece from the film, but we’ve got some strong clues going on here, and I would submit that it’s the same rough image by the same artist, if not the same image. First, you’ve got that little dot of boat in the beam of moonlight, just where it should be. Second, you’ve got the black square (it’s the side of a building, it turns out) wreathed in the lighter shade of all the buildings along the harbour, at just the right height (adjusting for how the image is hung/framed in the film, etc.), with the whiteness diminishing as it goes, and you’ve even got little dark domes above, just where those should be. The two things that throw me off are 1) the fact that the moon doesn’t seem to show up, and 2) the way the whiteness seems to get eaten up by that blob of darkness too soon. These are both probably the result of the hang of the painting, and the dark bar of shadow laying across the image thanks to the bannister (which you can see covering the rightmost third of the image).

I would put this along with Sister’s Creek and the Irish Setter piece as being among the most incredibly difficult pieces to ID, and which could only be ID’d by intense study. Obviously I’ve fantasized about there being some art expert out there who could just glance at my master file of mystery pieces, and pop them off in an afternoon. But pieces like these three are too obscure for that. I only found it after days of sifting through Vesuvius paintings, and this wasn’t even in the main results; it was the suggestion below a clicked result. And the people selling it (get it here, for a cool two grand), don’t even know who it’s by. And plugging it back into a Google image search or a Pinterest image search produces no results. So this piece may remain a mystery, save for its subject: Vesuvius, roaring away at night across the Bay of Naples. That said, I recently discovered the works of Abraham Pether (who painted the first Vesuvius below) and his sons Henry and Sebastian (who painted the second Vesuvius below).

Image result for abraham pether vesuvius
Image result for sebastian pether vesuvius

Abraham was known as “Moonlight” Pether, for the success of his depictions of nightscapes. He would pass this love of moonlit scenes on to his sons, both of whom would cover the subject extensively. But it’s in the works of son Henry that the form of the piece in the film seems to have in greatest abundance. The obscured moon, the water-bourne perspective, the interest in harbour front cityscapes.

Image result for henry pether vesuvius
Image result for henry pether vesuvius
Image result for henry pether vesuvius

I don’t think this will ever be confirmed, in terms of Pether being the author–and I’ll admit that the piece in the film lacks the polish of any Pether piece. But the interest in Vesuvius/Naples, the time period of presumed composition, along with the general aesthetic is close enough to say that if it’s not a Pether, then it’s by someone enormously influenced by their style. The other thing of note about these patriarchal painters is that while Abraham enjoyed a productive, celebrated career, health concerns eventually smashed the family’s fiduciary comforts at the end of his life, which is no doubt related to why a similarly ignoble existence awaited Sebastian (and possibly Henry). If Henry met a similar end (he died in 1865 at 37 years old) then the piece in the film could be the result of one, late in life, struggling against some disease to retain the former glory of a house crumbling to bits. Also, I’m just noticing that Henry was born in 1828 and Abraham died in 1812. What? Why is he considered Abraham’s son in every writing I can find about him? Did I miss a memo? About the nature of time and space? I’m guessing Henry is Sebastian’s son(?). But yeah, if this piece was even by a younger, less talented (and utterly forgotten) Pether, that would be even more heartbreaking.

So that all speaks to the incestuous nature of what Wendy’s seeing here. I’m not saying that incest always leads to the breakdown of lineages (the rate of birth defects is only twice the rate that less-closely-related procreators experience), but let’s say that’s reason number #562 why Wendy should be terrified of the path she was on.

As of this writing, there’s one other confirmed Vesuvius painting (in Suite 3; in case you’re not reading this in order, go read that link for a more thorough study of the mountain’s historical subtext), and a few other suspected ones, each appearing just outside a bedroom. As such, they each seem to say something about the explosive nature of sex and desire. This anonymous moon-goddess-y one certainly seems to have a thought about Wendy’s relationship with her son. If I can pin down the other ones for what I suspect them to be, I’ll do a more thorough analysis. For now, note that this is among the three pieces tied for third last to be seen in the film, and the last of the Vesuvius references.

As for the mirrorform, this painting appears, along with the McClelland muskox piece and the possible McCarthy piece, for ten seconds while Tony says he doesn’t want to show Danny why the Overlook is so bad. Within 3 seconds, a lava flow of blood starts oozing out of the Gold Room elevators. Wonder why?

I also have a thought that several of the as-yet-unidentified pieces in the film could be more Vesuvius-inspired works, but until I can confirm them, I would bloat this section with undo glut. However, there are a good deal of mountains seen in the various artworks, both identified and unidentified, so it might do to conclude this section with a feature listing those all off. If you’re reading this, I obviously haven’t gotten around to that yet.