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Pollice Verso

Jean-Leon Gerome

Pollice Verso

Jean-Leon Gerome
  • Date: 1872
  • Style: Academicism
  • Genre: genre painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: gladiators
  • Dimensions: 149.2 x 96.5 cm
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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 murmillo, awaiting the decision on the beaten retiarius at the 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.

Alexander Turney Stewart purchased the painting from Gérôme and exhibited it in New York City. He published a pamphlet about the work, proving to the satisfaction of his contemporaries that pollice verso was a matter of turning the thumb up or down.

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.

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