Monty Python iconic ‘stamping foot’ pinched from National Gallery, Terry Gilliam reveals

Stamping foot' in Monty Python's Flying Circus was pinched from National Gallery
The stamping foot seen in Monty Python's Flying Circus opening credits was taken from a National Gallery painting

It is possibly the most famous foot in modern screen history as it stamps down twice during the opening credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Now it has been revealed that its inspiration is a 16th century painting in the National Gallery.

“In the late Sixties I would come to the gallery to steal ideas - some from paintings and through buying posters and souvenirs of characters I liked,” says Python member Terry Gilliam. “I then went home to create wonderfully silly animations.”

In a documentary film to celebrate the gallery’s 200th anniversary, which falls this weekend, Gilliam tells how Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus, Cupid and Folly led to his creation of the descending bare foot. Gilliam, who later directed films including Brazil and 12 Monkeys, had noticed Cupid and a dove in a bottom corner of the painting.

Terry Gilliam and An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, c.1540-50 by Agnolo Bronzino. The foot in question can be seen above the dove, in the bottom left of the painting
Terry Gilliam and 'An Allegory with Venus and Cupid,' by Agnolo Bronzino (c.1540-50). The foot in question can be seen above the dove, in the bottom left of the painting - SeventhArt

“It seemed like his foot was about to crush the unsuspecting bird. I thought it would make a lovely punctuation - a sudden halt to what was going on. Cupid’s foot made it even better because what better than to be crushed by love,” he told The Telegraph.

Gilliam is one of 16 people - some celebrities, others gallery employees including director Gabriele Finaldi and retail assistant Joshua Pell, and the general public - who talk about their favourite painting in My National Gallery, which will be released in about 300 cinemas from the first week of June.

Claudia Winkleman, presenter of Strictly Come Dancing, Traitors and The Piano, tells how as a youngster she was taken each weekend by her father, Barry, after his divorce from journalist Eve Pollard.

“So my love for art came from my brilliant dad. But we would only look at one painting each visit and for about 40 minutes. We would then come back next week, and so on,” Winkleman said. She chooses Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, not for its religious depiction but because “it’s so humane. I also see it as a soother in a hectic life”.

Princess Eugenie, younger daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York, has also gone for a religious work - Correggio’s Madonna of the Basket. She references “the ethereal Madonna”. Eugenie, another Art History graduate like Winkleman, and now working at a Mayfair gallery, relates to “a mother looking after her young child, and struggling to put on its jacket. I’ve recently had a second baby and know that feeling”.

Gilliam’s former Python colleague, Michael Palin, perhaps unsurprisingly for a railway enthusiast, chooses Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed.

Michael Palin's choice: Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844) by JMW Turner
Michael Palin's choice: Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844) by JMW Turner - SeventhArt

“It shows the birth of the railways,” says Palin, a presenter of the BBC TV series Great Railway Journeys. “Yet Turner is also depicting the countryside, counterbalanced by the train. It’s a real narrative, in which you feel the New World will win.”

For children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson it was the Impressionists who attracted her when first taken as a youngster by her father.

“Especially Renoir’s The Umbrellas. Such a joyful work. I’ve also long identified with one young woman in the painting, who seems rather working class and has red hair. Many years later I created Hetty Feather, who had a similar social status.” The book was then turned into a hit TV series.

Painting (by Pierre-August Renoir) of Umbrellas pulled out in the rain in a crowd of men, women and children, 1875.
Painting (by Pierre-August Renoir) of Umbrellas pulled out in the rain in a crowd of men, women and children, 1875 - Archive Photos

Being taken as a youngster by a parent or grandparent is mentioned by six of the 16 interviewees.

“It is such a formative experience,” says Ali Ray, the film’s co-director. “All the more with so many secondary schools no longer taking their pupils, and far fewer able to study art history.”

For Peter Murphy however it was a visit to the National Gallery in his mid 50s which changed his life.

Murphy, born in Liverpool and now a London-based piano teacher, suffered from a very serious drink and drugs problem in the 1990s and Noughties while working on Channel 4’s Eurotrash.

“Dealers would come into the office with heroin and crack cocaine,” says the now 69 year old. Matters got even worse after his mother died when he was 42 - a mother, who had given him away at birth to her sister though she took him back when he was four. “I felt worthless. I went mad. It was also costing thousands a year.”

One day in 2009, after yet another visit to Narcotics Anonymous in Soho, Murphy popped into the National Gallery. “I’d been before but this time I found myself drawn to a blue coloured painting. It was Bellini’s Madonna of the Meadow.

Madonna of the Meadow by Giovanni Bellini
Madonna of the Meadow by Giovanni Bellini (1505) - Corbis Historical/Fine Art

“Very quickly the serenity and calmness of this Virgin and child touched me. I’m not religious though brought up by a very strict Catholic father. Seeing the Madonna made me think that ‘Mummy’s home’.”

It was a Damascene moment. Murphy then journeyed every day for more than 12 months to see the painting. It helped him off drink and drugs. Over subsequent years he went several times a week, and still does to this day, crediting the picture for remaining clean and sober.

“The painting gives me inner peace. And, thankfully, the gallery is free. I just feel I belong here. It’s my club. It’s my National Gallery.”