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TV / Television

Miami Vice “The Lost Madonna”, season 5 episode 14 first broadcast 17 March 1989

Miami Vice’s film worthy televisual and aesthetic qualities can be perceived in the way it presents itself as a total work of art both aurally with its innovative deployment of music and visually with its use of Art Deco locations in Miami, Pop Art, set design, neon-inflected night streets, designer fashion, and (very often pastel) colour coding and overall camera work and cinematography—truly cinematographic. The high point of this development is the 14th episode of the fifth and final season “The Lost Madonna”, which centers on the attempt to track down the centerpiece of the fictional 15th century triptych The Madonna of the Spirits. The episode both playfully (the mention of fictitious painters) and seriously (paintings by Mark Kostabi on display, who was commissioned to do paintings for the episode) examines the various roles and values of art as part of a meta discourse on art. In addition, the episode does not shy away from thematizing the art world’s darker sides in the link between commerce and art—even in its more criminal manifestations such as drugs used to purchase the ‘found’ Madonna and the dangers of disappointing your employer as in Sony Crocket’s tale from the Renaissance period of what happens when the patron who commissioned your painting doesn’t like the end result. In the end, though, the integrity of art prevails in the shape of The Madonna of the Spirits and the episode itself.

The production background to Miami Vice is shrouded in myths and apocryphal anecdotes. Michael Mann was the original executive producer, a title he held throughout the five-season run from September 1984 through June 1989 even though he actually left after the second season to work on his new TV series Crime Story. The show was the brainchild of then-NBC program executive Brandon Tartikoff, who according to legend wrote a memo on a napkin or scrap of paper simply stating “MTV Cops” (referencing the unprecedented success of the Music Television network). He presented the memo to Anthony Yerkovich, previously a writer and producer on another NBC police series Hill Street Blues who was developing an idea about a pair of vice cops in Miami, and the idea grew from there. As Executive Producer, Michael Mann gave the production team one simple rule to adhere to: “No Earth Tones!”

The distinctive visual appearance of the series, particularly in seasons 1—2 and (partly) 4 was one of pastel colors both for the actors and the scenes in which they operated. In discussing the genesis of and inspiration for Miami Vice’s trademark pastel-heavy costuming and production design, he explained that it was the result of a vacation he had taken to Miami’s Art Deco South Beach area several years before the show’s debut and a couple of color chips he had found at the paint store where his wife, the art director Summer Mann, was buying paint. Michael Mann recalls how he was “playing around with them” then “realized: three colors become thematic, two colors don’t. Three colors, you can actually start telling a chromatic story. You can create a mood with three colors” (Los Angeles Times 1987 see

Pastel colors it was, then, and they really meant business with exterior and interior locations as well as clothes color coordinated, very often with each other, almost reaching levels of abstract modern art. Leonard Horowitz was behind the South Beach Pastels. His love of Art Deco is why South Beach looks the way it does today, and working together with Barbara Capitman they founded the Miami Design Preservation League, eventually ensuring South Beach was listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

The episode’s plot can be summed up in one sentence (Sanders 27): “’The Lost Madonna’ indicates how art has become a capital asset and a significant part of drug dealers’ investment portfolios.” Two paintings which were part of the fictitious 15th century triptych The Madonna of the Spirits are found in a pick-up truck instead of the expected drug haul. The centerpiece, The Madonna, is still missing but is eventually tracked down.

“The Lost Madonna” is by no means a philistine rant against art, it’s just that its tongue is planted very firmly in its cheek. In the following sequence we have Geoffrey Whiteheadof the NYPD art thefts unit who has been assigned to help Crocket and Tubbs prepare their roles as undercover art connoisseurs. Lucy Lammermoor is said to be the artist who created this all-white ‘painting’ which represents “a search for the purest possible form … the painter here is engaged in a sort of aesthetic mysticism” to which Crockett replies “Yeah, I’ll say it’s pure. It’s so pure I can’t even find it.” It is, in fact, a blank wall!


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Lucia di Lammermoor though is an opera by the 19th century Italian composer Donizetti. This raises the question of how many of the other artists and art movements mentioned actually exist (a bit like Orson Welles’ F is for Fake with the art forger Elmyr de Hory and the hoax biographer Clifford Irving see Pablo Picasso in Other Painter Biopics):

-The Marmottan Monet museum in Paris, Neo Dada(ism) and its dean Andrew Noble all exist

-So does William McGregor Paxton even though he’s not as claimed from the 1950s but lived 1869-1941

-And while LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012) really did “paint jocks” as Detective Stanley Switek put it

-Somewhat sadly, the Renaissance painter Milo Lembrezzi is an invention

-Someone who does really exist is the Los Angeles (pop) artist and composer Mark Kostabi (1960- ) the twisting faceless figures of whose paintings are featured in the episode and have been edited together see clip at the very end. But even here and as part of the ongoing discourse about fakery and genuineness, in reality Kostabi’s Siamese Connection mentioned in the episode is in fire protection engineering two or more fire hoses on a single standpipe that looks like Siamese twins. Hardly surprising, then, that the film Con Artist claims Kostabi once hired people to conceive and create paintings he then signed and sold as his own.

The final season 5 recruited Pam Marcotte as the new art director, and Miami’s Art Deco was replaced by early 20th century Mediterranean revival buildings. Throughout “The Lost Madonna” the mise-en-scene conforms to the thematic “focus on the trafficking of a stolen Italian Renaissance art work.” A certain “symmetry of composition” along with “balance and proportion” thereby manage “to replicate the look of a Renaissance painting: right down to the inclusion of a window to generate a sense of perspective (Lyons, second chapter “Guns, Glitter and Glamour: Styling the Show” 53) see the shots inside the Colonnade Hotel at

A similar art element can be found in “Rites of Passage” season 1 episode16 where the “effect is to draw attention to the aspect ratio of television, while at the same time lending the scene a pictorial quality, as if we are viewing a bordered photo or painting. Implicit in this effect is the suggestion that the aspect ratio … can align (television) with the ‘fine arts’” (Lyons 47):

In the party sequence below everything mentioned so far and more comes together: sound (dialogue and non-diegetic music), cinematography, and some highly unusual camera angles and works of art. This is typical of the use of non-diegetic songs in Miami Vice where a couple of words here and there in the lyrics set off a variety of associations. The song is “Twist in my Sobriety,” written and sung by Tanita Tikaram where we have

-“All good people read good books” indicating (pseudo?) cultured sophistication

-“I hear you talk, girl” signaling pretentious conversations (cf. “my art is beyond syntax”)

-The title itself, even more enigmatic here than in the original (maybe it’s just about drinks after all!)

And all the time the drug deal going down is never far away: “And how did you become involved in art – trafficking?” Crockett is asked, who promptly describes himself as a “special benefactor to the arts”:


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In the episode’s final sequence, Sonny Crocket explains how it “took Milo Lembrezzi three years to paint those ladies [meaning The Madonna of the Spirits], and when he was finished, he took his work to his patrone,” obviously a duke in the Medici family, who told him it wasn’t “exactly what we had in mind,” which is why “he cut off Milo’s hand to show him how disappointed he was.” And this is exactly what happened to Miami Vice—it had its hand cut off like in this tale of what happens when the patron who commissioned your painting doesn’t like the final product. Immediately after “The Lost Madonna” was broadcast Miami Vice was cancelled. However, the very last freeze frame shot of the episode is of the cheekily impressive Madonna of the Spirits benignly looking down on everything in a detached way, the primacy of art upheld—even over drug dealers. Ultimately, the Miami Vice series as a whole with its cinematography, lighting and seamless use of unsourced music to comment on and reflect the mood—Tanita Tikarem’s “Twist in my Sobriety” at the party along with “She’s Waiting” by Eric Clapton for the final chase—comes across as a thoroughly unified, harmonious work of art:


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Gilmore Girls, “The Festival of Living Pictures“, season 4 episode 7 first broadcast 4 November 2003. The episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Makeup for a Series (non-Prosthetic). It is decided to host “a show which presents on stage recreations of famous works of art – statues, paintings etc – with real people posing as the figures in the art” (6:10—6:20). The episode can be watched at

First of all we see Girolamo Parmigianino’s Portrait of a Young Girl Named Anthea (1524—27 original title merely Anthea) hanging on the stage in a gold frame which is part of a (possibly) gauze screen behind which Rory is posing as Anthea. Next we have Leonardo’s Last Supper (35:00—35:00) where the twelve disciples form a tableaux vivant, again behind a screen. The one sculpture in the quartet is Nicolas Poussin’s The Reaper (1679), and appropriately for a statue that stands in the Gardens of Versailles this version (39:00—39:55) is slowly rotating on its pedestal in the outside garden pavilion (the theatre where all this is taking place is obviously open at the back). The finale is provided by Dance at Bougival (1883) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (41:52—42:41) with Renoir’s friends Suzanne Valadon and Paul Auguste Lihote doing the dancing in the original. Here (and not behind a screen) Lorelai’s head as Valadon is sticking through the canvas like some sort of funfair attraction. The baby pager unfortunately goes off but Lorelai takes one of the audience member’s pieces of advice to stay frozen till the end! See also

An annual “living pictures” 90-minute art performance entitled The Pageant of the Masters takes place in Laguna Beach, California. The festival has in turn been referenced by two TV episodes. “In God We Trust” from Arrested Development (season 1 episode 7) where the festival is seen to take place in Orange County) almost exactly reproduces God’s gesture of reaching out to touch index fingers with Adam from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, part of his series of Sistine Chapel Genesis paintings.  And in “Pageant of the Masters” from the Reality TV show Somebody’s Gotta Do It (season 1 episode 5) host Mick Rowe plays Bartholomew from (again!) Da Vinci’s Last Supper see


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The Art of the Television Series” was an international conference organized by the School of Communication at the University of Navarre/Spain 9-10 February 2017. Its self-declared aim according to the conference overview was to explore the relationship between television series and the arts, connecting contemporary TV series to other artistic fields such as architecture, sculpture, and painting. Interaction between TV programs and the arts involves the frequent use of pre-existing artistic objects in TV fiction, and the arts can also be found in TV series through the different contributions of artists to television sets and soundtracks. Photography, special effects, interior design, costume design and music offer other interesting lines of research. Sometimes these two types of interaction appear together as when contemporary artists draw their inspiration from pre-existing artworks.

By way of example, the conference stressed its interest in artistic achievements such as landscape constructions (Fargo, True Detective or Game of Thrones), fashion design in historical productions (Downton Abbey, Deutschland 83), sculptural recreations of human and animal bodies (Bones, CSI Las Vegas or Les Revenants), the Baroque still lifes in Breaking Bad, and the influence of painters like Botticelli in Hannibal, Pollock in Dexter and Hopper in Mad Men. In an attempt to merge content and form, the conference was held at the Contemporary Art Museum in the University of Navarre, surrounded by the paintings of Miró, Kandinsky, Picasso, Rothko and Chillida. The conference contributions included in particular:

“A Piece of TV or a Pretentious Art Film? Influences of Art in Hannibal.”

Mad Men, Admen and Art.”

“Connotative Dimensions of the Japanese Folklore in a Family Story: Hirokazu Koreeda’s Going My Home.”

An edited version of my talk on “The Lost Madonna” from Miami Vice can be found right at the start of this section.

Lewis “The Point of Vanishing” (s3 e3 2009) engages with the theory of the Vanishing Point where lines seem to converge on a horizon line to which the receding parallel lines get smaller and smaller in size, a fundamental concept of perspective allowing for the creation of paintings with a three-dimensional look. Contemplating Paolo Uccello’s “The Hunt in the Forest” (around 1470) in the Ashmolean Museum/Oxford, Lewis wonders to Hathaway whether there has to be more to it than just everyone—humans and animals—running off into the distance of the dark forest. Overhearing this, the guide Francis Wheeler explains that within the context of the Renaissance “the hunt was a courtly metaphor for the pursuit of love” (16:52-18:57 part one). Having been previously alerted to the painting on a postcard as a possible clue to a murder, the two detectives are now able to solve the crime thanks to Wheeler’s analysis.

L’Art du crime (France2 2017, first two seasons six episodes each then a further three of two each. Created by Angèle Herry-Leclerc and Pierre-Yves Mora and directed by Eric Woreth and Charlotte Brändström)

In this police procedural the police officer Antoine Verlay and the Ècole du Louvre graduate and art historian Florence Chassagne both work for the department for the prevention of the smuggling of works of art. Apart from possessing the talent to find every small yet necessary crucial detail in a painting, Chassagne is also helped by painters who ‘appear’ to her in visions. Each episode is set in a particular art gallery, museum or chateau and foregrounds a particular painter (in order: Leonardo da Vinci, Watteau, Géricault, Monet/Fragonard, Courbet, Bosch, Degas, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Claudel, Delacroix, Manet and Munch) and/or painting that is the key to solving the murder of theft. Further details are provided in the French Wikipedia entry below. Filming of the seventh season has just started (planned: the first woman painter so far Èlisabeth Vigèe Le Brun and Botticelli).

The Simpsons episode “Mom and Pop Art” (s10 e9 1999) references several famous paintings. Homer and Marge visit the Springfield Art Museum where Homer takes a nap and has a nightmare of various paintings and artists attacking him:

-Homer is lying in a similar way to the woman in Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy. The lion that licks Homer in the dream is also based on the same lion.

-After he is woken up by the lion, Homer is attacked by Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man drawing before being attacked by Picasso’s Three Musicians, who shoot at Homer with musical instruments turned into machine guns.

-Homer then sees a clock dripping water, a reference to Dali’s Persistence of Vision.

-At the end of his dream Homer meets Andy Warhol, who throws one of his Campbell’s Soup Cans at him.

-The episode also features the American abstract expressionist painter and printmaker Jasper Johns.


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-For a list of 115 (!!) art references in the Simpsons see

TV Art Shows

Civilisation (1969) was the progenitor, Ways of Seeing (1972) the answer and Civilisations the reboot of the first (2018). The below concentrate on paintings and are witness to the renewed interest over the last couple of decades or so, particularly in Britain, France and Germany.

The Private Life of a Masterpiece (UK 2001-10 BBC Cymru Wales)

The story behind the painting plus the historical context, contemporary reactions and legacies are told in 25 episodes in five “series” including two one-offs each on The Private Life of an Easter (Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ and Roger van der Weyden’s The Descent from the Cross) / Christmas (Botticelli’s The Mystic Nativity and Lippi’s The Adoration of the Christ Child) Masterpiece. Devised then produced by Jeremy Bugler, the series is narrated by actors Samuel West and Tim Pigott-Smith.

Great Artists (UK 2001)

In 14 23-minute episodes shot on location in over 50 galleries, museums, churches and palaces throughout Europe and the United States, the art historian curator and broadcaster Tim Marlow, Artistic Director of The Royal Academy of Arts, presents a survey of the history of Western art including Giotto, Michelangelo, Raphael, Dürer, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Turner among many others.

Great Art (UK 2017-19) 15x 50 mins.

Tim Marlow returns for three seasons of 15 50-minute episodes some of which were originally part of Exhibition on Screen (see Miscellaneous section) and were subsequently adapted/edited for the series. Art experts offer their expertise on painters ranging from Canaletto and American Impressionists to Goya and Czeanne. Some episodes take a thematic approach, for example number 14 on how Monat’s contemporaries constructed modern gardens with which to investigate various motifs and experiment with the use of colour, design and utopian ideas.

Every Picture Tells a Story (UK 2003 Acorn Media Group)

Hosted by art critic Waldemar Januszczak, eight episodes in two seasons unravel then expose the secrets behind some of Europe’s most famous paintings and the world’s most familiar images such as Mrs Andrews‘ empty lap in Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews, why Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa captured the world’s imagination and is considered such an important piece of art, and how Manet shocked French society with his Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and the reason it was so controversial. From New York City to Paris to Rome, Januszczak goes on location to research his project, interviewing art experts and going through library archives and historical records. Paintings by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Giorgione, van Eyck and Caravaggio are also covered.

 One Hundred Great Paintings (BBC 1980)

The brainchild of Edwin Mullins, the one hundred ten-minute programmes are centred around thematic groups such as bathing, the hunt, the Adoration, the land, cities, light, touch, love, music, self-portraits, and the language of colour. Five paintings were chosen from each one in a wide-ranging selection from 12th century China to the post war era with an emphasis on (possibly/assumedly) lesser known painters, particularly from Scandinavia like Anna Ancher, Hendrick Avercamp and Halfdan Egedius. Experts or other artists were sometimes invited to discuss the paintings such as David Hockney, Café Terrace at Night by Van Gogh (cities). Along with Mullins, the other regular cast members, who analaysed the paintings as well, were Richard Cork, David Piper, Alistair Smith and Anita Brookner, who talked, for example about Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s Self-Portrait with her Daughter Julie (self-portaits). Coproduced with German arts producer Reiner Moritz, the series inspired the below, which Moritz went on to direct.

1000 Meisterwerke (Full title 1,000 Masterpieces from the Great Museums of the World WDR German Broadcasting Company 1980-84)

Ten-minute episodes narrated by Rudolf Jürgen Bartsch in which one painting is explained by an art expert. The German art historian and journalist Wibke von Bonin led the editorial team. The German Wikipedia entry lists all 1,000 paintings!

British Masters (BBC Four July 2011)

A three-part BBC television series on 20th century British art from the incredibly fruitful period 1910-75 presented by art historian Dr James Fox. The first programme explors the lives and works of among others Wyndham Lewis, Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer, the second the works of artists such as John Nash and Alfred Munnings, and a third British art in the aftermath of World War Two in the shape of Lucian Freud, Grahamn Sutherland, Francis Bacon, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Keith Vaughan.

Arte Palettes – Masterpieces of Painting (France 1989-2007)

The approach of all 50 episodes is to study in meticulous detail works of art history from the prehistoric paintings of the Lascaux Caves via Leonardo da Vinci and Peter Paul Rubens to Andy Warhol. The journalist and producer Alain Jaubert, who also wrote and directed the series, reveals the details of these works from brushwork via mixed technique to playing with perspective and the various stages of reworking involved in the painting process. The results are insightful, illuminating and instructive. 

A Musée Vous, A Musée Moi (France 2018)

In quirky and offbeat sketches with scrupulously reconstructed décor and costumes, 30 three-minute episodes take a close yet also humorous look at ten art historical paintings from Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring to Andy Wahrhol’s Marilyns, all brought to life by actors and actresses chosen after a long and involved casting process for their resemblance to the figures in the paintings. 

The Adventures of Modern Art (France arte 2015 by Amélie Harrault, Pauline Gaillard, and Valérie Losieeux [the latter two also edited it] based on Le temps des bohemes by Dan Franck, who also wrote the screenplay)

A mixture of archival footage, photos, pictures, illustrations, scenes from theatre plays, sequences from silent films and animation brings to life in six episodes the artistic life in Paris from the origins of Modernism and the Montparnasse street artists to the end of the Second World War. The corresponding televisual style is always adapted to that of the particular artist under discussion.

Les Petits Secrets des Grands Tableaux (France arte five seasons 2015-19)

Directed and written by the multi media artists Clément Cogitoire and Carlos Franklin and written by the journalist/art critic Elisabeth Couturier and director/screenplay writer Thomas Cheysson, the series moves from medieval to modern art and through all of Europe from Rome to Amsterdam (passing Venice and Florence), from Madrid to Moscow, from Paris to Berlin. 2- and 3-D techniques are employed to bring the paintings to life, thereby allowing the viewer to visualize the relevant historical context and get a feel for the spirit of the times with their wars, revolutions, economic transformations, scientific discoveries and belief systems. For the episode listings of the first four seasons see

Meisterwerke Revisited (Germany 2005 Deutsche Welle episodes 1-10)

Directed by Stephanie Drescher and produced by Basiliscus Film, this Euromaxx series investigates the question of why some paintings that are quoted in films or advertising and adorn cups, t-shirts and posters have entered our collective memories. Reproduced millions of times, paintings like Klimt’s Kiss, Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, Kaspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, the Mona Lisa, The Scream and the Sunflowers have become icons of popular culture and of our time.

L’amour à l’œuvre: Couples mythique d’artistes (France 2018–)

In a mixture of real biography and creative archival collage against the backdrop of the time they lived in, the two seasons nine-parter (episodes 24-26 minutes) tells the life stories of the legendary artist couples Amedeo Modigliani/Jeanne Hébuterne, Man Ray/Lee Miller, Paula Becker/Otto Modersohn, Gabriele Münter/Wassily Kandinsky, Frieda Kahlo/Diego Rivera, Emilie Flöge/Gustav Klimt, Claude Cahun/Marcel Moore, Gerda Taro/Robert Capa and Lee Miller/Man Ray. Love, art and passion…

Art with Mati + Dada

A series of ABC TV Education 38 seven-minute animated features for lower/upper primary children in which “seven year old Mati is magically transported into the lives of great artists by her eccentric sidekick Dada. Together the two friends learn about art from the masters” see link, also for a complete list of episodes:

The Impressionists

A three-part three-hour speculative mini-series about French Impressionist painter Claude Monet recalling his training in Paris during the 1860s and based on interviews and his personal journals. This factual docudrama also features Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and Manet, and its special effects transport us into paintings, recreating the illuminated landscapes and portraits of late 19th-century France.

Desperate Romantics

A six-part BBC 2 drama serial about the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The Landmark Arts Series (UK Art of Arts TV BBC 4 2008)

Fittingly here at (almost!) the end of our journey, this three-part series reviews TV arts programming from 1958 on. Experts such as David Attenborough, Joan Bakewell, Melvyn Bragg, Jonathan Miller, Jonathan Meades, Ken Russell, Brian Sewell and Alan Yentob consider what effect such programmes have had on British broadcasting culture. The final episode is dedicated to some milestones like Civilisation, Ways of Seeing, and Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New.

…. and the show goes on with the following discussed in the news.artnet link below:

Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting (1983-84):


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Frances Stoner Saunder’s Hidden Hands: A Different History of Modernism (Channel 4 1995-96)

Sister Wendy’s American Collection (2001). She also did 1996’s Story of Painting

Simon Schama’s The Power of Art (2006)

Fake or Fortune? (2011-19) with the journalist, newsreader and television presenter Fiona Bruce and the art dealer/historian Philip Mould

Raiders of the Lost Art (2014-16)

Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude (UK BBC 2 2020)

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