Some Thoughts on the Hugo Simberg Paintings in Constellation

With Some Light Spoilers Through Episode 5

Jo and Alice look on, with The Wounded Angel in the background, in Constellation Episode 2
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The fourth episode of Constellation ends with a close-up of the painting on the wall of the family cabin, where we saw Jo take Alice in the show’s premiere and where we saw Magnus take Alice in Episode 4. It’s not entirely clear which cabin, or which timeline, the shot at the end of Episode 4 relates to, and that’s significant in relation to the thoughts I’m going to lay out here.

The painting at the end of S1E4 is Hugo Simberg’s The Poor Devil by the Fire ; The Devil by the Pot, and its symbolism certainly inspires thought in a direct way. The devil is clearly hungry. His ribs are showing. But he also looks a bit pathetic. Do we have sympathy for him? Does the couple in the painting?

Hugo Simberg's painting of a skinny devil stirring a pot while a couple looks on
The Poor Devil by the Fire ; The Devil by the Pot by Hugo Simberg (Public Domain)

I should note that the image that we see in Constellation S1E4 looks a little different. I’m not sure if that’s just because of the lighting or if there’s more to read into here:

A creepy painting at the end of Constellation S1E4
Screenshot/Apple TV+

It may just be an issue of the lighting, but I got to thinking that there used to be a different painting on the wall of the cabin, which led me to go back and check previous episodes. And, lo and behold, I was correct.

When Jo and Alice arrive to the cabin in Episode 1, the painting on the wall is Hugo Simberg’s The Wounded Angel, which is widely regarded to be his most famous painting. For what it’s worth, “The Wounded Angel” is also the title of Constellation S1E1.

Jo lights a candle in front of Hugo Simberg's The Wounded Angel in Constellation S1E1, "The Wounded Angel"
Screenshot/Apple TV+

That same painting can be clearly seen in the background on the wall of the cabin in Episode 2, as the Alice that Jo had been giving a bath disappears and the other Alice is confused.

Jo and Alice look on, with The Wounded Angel in the background, in Constellation Episode 2
Screenshot/Apple TV+

However, here’s the most interesting bit: at the end of Episode 1, Jo arrives to a “second cabin” where she finds her Alice hiding in a cupboard. On the wall of this cabin is neither The Wounded Angel nor The Poor Devil by the Fire ; The Devil by the Pot—it’s kind of a mixture of both paintings:

A painting in Constellation that seems to be a mix of two Hugo Simberg paintings: Poor Devil & The Wounded Angel
Screenshot/Apple TV+

I didn’t notice any further permutations of the painting in the cabin in Constellation Episode 5, but it does provide some information that may be useful in parsing things. Namely, we learn that Jo’s Alice calls her “mamma” (as does the Alice hiding in the cupboard in the cabin at the end of Episode 1), whereas the other Alice does not (she doesn’t speak Swedish and calls Jo “mommy”).

The Swedish thing has been pretty obvious, but I have to admit I hadn’t clocked the mamma/mommy thing until Episode 5 called my attention to it. It does, however, appear to track consistently. So we basically know that the Alice Jo finds after seeing the weird mixed painting on the wall is the Alice from her original world.

At the same time, though, Jo seems confused as she sees this painting on the wall. That could be because it’s a mashup of two paintings, but in contrast, she does not seem to be confused when she sees The Wounded Angel on the wall at the beginning of Episode 1.

So, which painting is “supposed” to be on the wall in our Jo’s original world? And what world are we seeing at the end of Episode 4 where it’s fully The Poor Devil by the Fire ; The Devil by the Pot?

Of course, there is a further question about how we read all of this symbolically. It would seem that a wounded angel turns into a poor devil, and we’re also presented with a version in between (you could call it liminal).

I can’t say I have a good line on that question at the moment, but it’s more like I’m waiting for further information. I don’t think Constellation is giving us clues with these paintings so much as providing something worthy of interpretation.

So stay tuned to my weekly recaps to see if I’ve got one by the end of the season. In the meantime, enjoy Hugo Simberg‘s work, and keep an eye out for any other paintings that may show up in Constellation as we move forward.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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