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Pictorial art and TV series: deciphering the credits of Desperate Housewives

Desperate Housewives, an iconic series from 2004, created by Marc Cherry, follows the hectic daily lives of four women living in a chic suburb of Fairview. Credits, which have not aged a bit, are full of pictorial references diverted through different eras. It also depicts the evolution of image of the "housewife".

The first credits picture is inspired by a painting of Lucas Cranach the Elder, a painter of XVth century, representing Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. In the biblical version, it is Adam who bites into the loose fruit, symbol of sin. But in credits it is Eve who bites into the apple.

This work, present at the Artothèque Sud, could also have been in the credits!

She paints her life and our daily life, toys of our childhood, fruits, vegetables of our kitchen, objects which dress our interiors. The apple is an important symbol of Desperate Housewives series, it is often linked to Aphrodite, goddess of love, famous for arousing desire in men as well as in the gods (the apple would have been created by Dionysus for Aphrodite).


The rest of credits take us back to the ancient Egyptian era. The background, which represents a typical Egyptian atmosphere, is inspired by a work of David Roberts - Nefertari, queen and wife of Pharaoh Ramses II. Here, Nefertari is surrounded by a multitude of children, so invasive that they eventually bring her down. This reminds us of Lynette character's situation in series, overwhelmed by education of her four children.


This painting by Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Husband and Wife (1429), depicts the marriage of a wealthy Italian merchant to a young woman of lower rank. The work is largely diverted in credits, as we see the man eating a banana and throwing it on the ground so that his wife, "submissive and devoted", will immediately do the household chores.


Another well-known work is visually reproduced, that of American painter Grant Wood "American Gothic" (1930).

In credits, the man holds a pitchfork in his hand, which acts as a barrier. Any outside intrusion seems forbidden. But this barrier can just as easily be erected between his wife and potential seducers, proving that she always remains locked in an attitude of submission. However, in this case, artwork has been diverted since it is the husband who is seduced by a pin-up painted by Gil Elvgren.

Another visual used: a propaganda poster dating from the Second World War and signed by Dick Williams. This advertisement was supposed to encourage young women to ration their food to avoid any shortage while war was raging.


Finally, credits end with a Pop Art work, dating from the 60s. This movement used consumer society and comic books as sources of inspiration.

The mores are no longer the same, and in this combination, on screen, of two works of the artist Robert Dale, the woman is now at the end. After having lived under the male yoke, here she is rebelling, hitting the man with a punch.

These 2 works, present at Artothèque Sud, could also have been in credits!

In the same Pop Art style, we have several works in our collection by Bernard RANCILLAC, French painter and sculptor.

Finally, what could be better than to (re)watch credits
to put into images all that you have just read!

Sources :

Love in the history of art.

Explanation of credits.

Desperate Housewives Wiki credits.


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