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Jean-Léon Gerômé - Pollice verso

by Alexandra Tuschka

The gladiator looks questioningly at the audience. He has pressed his foot on his opponent's throat. The latter stretches his arm upwards in search of help. Two other gladiators are already lying defeated on the ground. Weapons lying among the corpses indicate an exciting fight. The people on the tribune give emphasis to their response. The thumbs down pass the death sentence on the man lying on the ground. The Frenchman Geromé has dealt extensively with the world of gladiators like hardly anyone else, and his depictions have shaped our image of them today. There is a lot going on in the stands, because everyone wants to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.

The ladies dressed in white are the vestal virgins, priestesses of the goddess of sacred fire. Although they had to live chastely, they nevertheless possessed certain privileges due to their status. These included the right to the prominent place to the left of the emperor and away from the crowd, as can be seen here in the picture. That the vestal virgins were always present at the gladiator fights is historically proven. Geromé has also incorporated other surviving details into the painting, such as the awning that filters the light. In the center, depicted quite inconspicuously, the emperor sits on his golden throne. Near him, a red-haired woman can be seen playing with her necklace - a gesture of discomfort? Does she sympathize with the victim or is she even bored by the spectacle?

Jean-Léon Gerômé - Pollice verso

Oil on canvas, 1872, 96.5 x 150 cm, Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix


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