Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pollice Verso (1872)

Jean-Léon Gérôme: Pollice Verso

Pollice Verso (from Latin: with a turned thumb) is a painting by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, featuring the eponymous Roman gesture directed to the winning gladiators.

The gesture on the painting is given by the Vestals to the victorious secutor, awaiting the decision on the beaten retiarius at Colosseum. The painting inspired the 2000 film Gladiator, where Commodus holds out a raised thumb to spare Maximus.

Apart from the gladiators and Vestals, the picture shows the emperor in his box. Gérôme deliberately used the light and perspective to depict some features. The blend of voyeurism and a sense of moral superiority is a specific 19th-century feature.

Gérôme's depiction of Colosseum's architecture is based on accurate drawings and the armour of gladiators follows the design of those found in Pompeii. Gérôme also checked the written sources for archaeological reference. Some Latin textbooks used Pollice Verso to illustrate Roman customs. The producers of Gladiator showed Ridley Scott a reproduction of Pollice Verso before he read the film script. "That image spoke to me of the Roman Empire in all its glory and wickedness. I knew right then and there I was hooked", said Scott. However it was found that the secutor's armour is not properly assembled. [Wikipedia]

See also “Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down? Looking at Gérôme’s Pollice Verso” in the Getty Online magazine.

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