Navigate / search

In the Galleries: Robert De Niro's King James Version-inspired tattoos in "Cape Fear"

You must have Javascript enabled and the Flash 8 plugin installed to view this content.

Consult your browser’s help file for instructions to enable Javascript.

Click on the four-way arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the slideshow to convert into full-screen mode.

The 1991 Martin Scorsese–directed thriller Cape Fear may seem an unlikely candidate for documenting the use and influence of the King James Bible, but its central character, Max Cady, as played by Robert De Niro, wielded biblical verses like weapons.

This aspect of Cady was absent in both the original 1962 film starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum and in The Executioners (1957), the novel by John D. MacDonald on which the film was based.

Cape Fear follows Cady, a convicted felon, as he seeks vengeance against his attorney, Sam Bowden. While in prison, Cady learned that Bowden suppressed information that might have resulted in a lighter sentence or acquittal. The biblical story of Job’s suffering looms large as a model for Cady’s punishment of Bowden.

The research materials from the Robert De Niro collection reveal the extent to which De Niro was involved in the development of the Pentecostal past of and biblical influence on Cady. To prepare for the role, De Niro consulted multiple Bibles, a concordance, Bible study guides, Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Book of Job, and books and articles about Pentecostalism and Pentecostal worship.

Screenwriter Wesley Strick recalled, “Every scene of Bob’s, he would call me and say, ‘Can Max say something else here about vengeance, from the Bible?’” De Niro also worked closely with Scorcese and artist Ilona Herman to identify Bible verses and designs for Cady’s extensive tattoos.

Cape Fear did not offer viewers a traditional Bible story. Indeed, Cady’s use of the Bible was troubling for many audiences, and it contributed to the tension of the film. One critic observed, “The dissonance between the cultural expectations we associate with the Bible and our immediate perception of this character [as evil] contributes to the sustained horror of the film.”

Materials from Cape Fear and other films influenced by the King James Bible are on view in the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence through July 29.

A production still of Robert De Niro as Max Cady, the bible verse-tattoo sporting convict from "Cape Fear."
A production still of Robert De Niro as Max Cady, the bible verse-tattoo sporting convict from "Cape Fear."

In the Galleries: Anatomy of the King James Bible title page

Click on image to view larger version.
Click on image to view larger version.

The title page of the 1611 King James Bible is the first title page of an English Bible to feature a depiction of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though this Bible is traditionally called the “King James,” the title page does not announce the king’s patronage by featuring his image.

The imposing architectural frame, suggestive of a church edifice, is full of human figures, including Moses and Aaron, the Evangelists, and the Apostles. Traditionally, Jesus had twelve Apostles, but the thirteen depicted here include Matthias, who replaced Judas after his betrayal (Acts 1:26), and Paul, who described himself as an Apostle in Romans 1. Each apostle is represented by a symbolic attribute, though not all are easily identifiable.

The first edition’s title page and other materials pertaining to the King James Bible are on view in the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence through July 29.

Recommended Reading: The King James Bible: Its History and Influence

Cover of Joseph Heller's "God Knows," a recommended reading pick by exhibition co-curator Danielle Brune Sigler.
Cover of Joseph Heller's "God Knows," a recommended reading pick by exhibition co-curator Danielle Brune Sigler.

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition The King James Bible: It’s History and Influence tells the little-known story of one of the most widely read and printed books in the history of the English language. Exhibition co-curator Danielle Brune Sigler offers a list of recommended reading that traces the history of the influence of this translation.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Preparator Wyndell Faulk installs a video screen in the galleries for the upcoming exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens February 28. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk installs a video screen in the galleries for the upcoming exhibition “The King James Bible: Its History and Influence,” which opens February 28. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Marianne Fulton, a consultant who will be contributing to a book on photographer Arnold Newman, orders photographs for the project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Marianne Fulton, a consultant who will be contributing to a book on photographer Arnold Newman, orders photographs for the project. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Ransom Center staffers stuff member invitations for the upcoming exhibition
Ransom Center staffers stuff member invitations for the upcoming exhibition
Graduate student intern Kevin Auer applies a silicone gel to a medieval text to conserve the ink on the page.  Photo by Kelsey McKinney
Graduate student intern Kevin Auer applies a silicone gel to a medieval text to conserve the ink on the page. Photo by Kelsey McKinney
Senior book conservator Olivia Primanis demonstrates the elements of book structure with intern Hsiang-Shun Huang and volunteers Christopher Jones and Margaret Schafer so they can write a treatment report before repairing
Senior book conservator Olivia Primanis demonstrates the elements of book structure with intern Hsiang-Shun Huang and volunteers Christopher Jones and Margaret Schafer so they can write a treatment report before repairing

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Exhibition Services staff members remove the ‘Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia’ display banner after the close of the exhibition.  Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Exhibition Services staff members remove the ‘Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia’ display banner after the close of the exhibition. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk and Chief Preparator John Wright carefully remove from display Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. Photo by Pete Smith.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk and Chief Preparator John Wright carefully remove from display Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. Photo by Pete Smith.
The Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin interviewed University President William Powers Jr. at the Ransom Center about the school’s Powers Graduate Fellowship Program. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
The Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin interviewed University President William Powers Jr. at the Ransom Center about the school’s Powers Graduate Fellowship Program. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

From Longhorn to the "Mayor of Greenwich Village"

Lew Ney was a member of the Glee Club while he attended The University of Texas. He's pictured here in a photo from the 1906 Cactus yearbook on the bottom row, second from the right.
Lew Ney was a member of the Glee Club while he attended The University of Texas. He's pictured here in a photo from the 1906 Cactus yearbook on the bottom row, second from the right.

Before Lew Ney became the Mayor of Greenwich Village (and a signer of the door featured in the current exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925), he was a Longhorn. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, as Luther E. Widen, Lew Ney graduated from Austin High School and enrolled in The University of Texas in 1904. He began his undergraduate career in the College of Engineering but after one year transferred to the Humanities Department. He was an active member of the Glee Club as a second tenor for three years before leaving the University in 1907.

Ultimately, Ney received his undergraduate degree from Nebraska and his

Detail of Ney from the Cactus yearbook photo.
Detail of Ney from the Cactus yearbook photo.

master’s degree  in psychology at Iowa State University. He moved to Greenwich Village in the early 1920s and married Ruth Thompson in 1928. He was known in the Village as a writer, printer, type designer, and publisher. Most notably, he published the magazine Parnassus and the early works of writers Parker Tyler and Maxwell Bodenheim.  He is most famous for his creation of the exquisite typesetting font (L283) that was well suited for poetic works.

Eventually, Ney would become a community character proclaimed “the Mayor of Greenwich Village.”

The bookshop door with Ney’s signature is on display in The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925 through January 22. Also, visit the related web exhibition, which uses the door as an entryway into the lives, careers, and relationships of New York bohemians of that era.

Special thanks to The Alcalde for assisting with the yearbook images.

Published by Lew Ney, 'Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms 8' was founded by Parker Tyler, and Charles Henri Ford, who dropped out of high school to edit it. This spring 1930 issue was published when Ford was just seventeen. It features several writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center: Tyler, Ford, Paul Bowles, and Louis Zukofsky. The Center also houses important collections of contributors Kay Boyle, John Herrmann, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams.
Published by Lew Ney, 'Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms 8' was founded by Parker Tyler, and Charles Henri Ford, who dropped out of high school to edit it. This spring 1930 issue was published when Ford was just seventeen. It features several writers whose archives reside at the Ransom Center: Tyler, Ford, Paul Bowles, and Louis Zukofsky. The Center also houses important collections of contributors Kay Boyle, John Herrmann, Gertrude Stein, and William Carlos Williams.

Only three days left to see Frida Kahlo's "Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird"

Photo by Pete Smith.
Photo by Pete Smith.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) is on display for only three more days at the Harry Ransom Center. This Sunday is the last day visitors can view the work before it travels to its next destination.

The painting, one of the Ransom Center’s most famous and frequently borrowed art works, has been on almost continuous loan since 1990. During that time, the painting has been featured in exhibitions in more than 25 museums in the United States and around the world.

You can view an interactive map that illustrates the travels of Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.

Later this year, Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird will be on view in a three-venue exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Activities of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibition will be on view at LACMA from January 29 through May 6; at the Musee National des Beaux-arts du Quebec in Quebec City, Canada, from June 7 to September 3; and at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, Mexico, from September 27 through January 13, 2013.

Recommended Reading: "The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia: 1920–1925"

'The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia: 1920–1925' runs through January 22.
'The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia: 1920–1925' runs through January 22.

The Ransom Center’s current exhibition The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920–1925 is overflowing with literary history. To learn more about the history of Greenwich Village and the work of the bohemian artists and writers whose signatures cover the door, view the reading list that tempted the curators to stop researching and start reading.

Holiday hours at the Ransom Center

The Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
The Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.

The Ransom Center will be closed for Thanksgiving Day. The galleries will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, November 25, and from noon to 5 p.m. on this Saturday and Sunday.

Visitors can see the current exhibitions, Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored and The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925, as well as Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.

Free docent-led tours of the gallery exhibitions are offered at 2 p.m. on this Saturday and Sunday.

Visit the Harry Ransom Center as part of Austin’s Cultural Campus “Museum Crawl” on Saturday, November 26. Enjoy the exhibitions with your family, friends, and out-of-town guests. Join us at 2 p.m. for a docent-led tour of the exhibitions. Kick off your holiday shopping with one-day discounts on Ransom Center merchandise, including postcards, totebags, and books. Purchase a gift membership specially packaged in an archival box and receive a free set of postcards ($10 value). Complimentary beverages will warm you on your walk to your next Austin’s Cultural Campus destination.

The Reading Room will be closed on Friday, November 25, and Saturday, November 26, but will reopen on Monday, November 28.

Parking information and a map are available online.