Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thumbs Up: Reconsidering Jean-Léon Gérôme

If you think that a thumbs up in ancient Rome meant that the beaten gladiator would live and that a thumbs down meant death, you can thank Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1872 painting Pollice Verso (shown above) for that. In reality, thumbs down meant “stick your sword in the ground” and no kill. Thumbs up meant “stick the sword in his neck.” It’s amazing to think of how a single work could generate such a widespread idea, but Gérôme enjoyed that kind of influence in the nineteenth century thanks to hi show-stopping scenes of the ancient world and exotic east. As tastes shifted towards modernism with the turn of the twentieth century, Gérôme slid into obscurity. Reconsidering Gérôme, edited by Scott Allan and Mary Morton, accompanies The Getty Center’s exhibition, The Spectacular Art of Gérôme, in trying to restore Gérôme’s good name in today’s art world. Their efforts amount to one big thumbs up for an artist whose old-fashioned realism masks modernist impulses that make Gérôme’s art relevant today. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Thumbs Up."

[Image: Jean-Léon Gérôme. Pollice Verso, 1872. Oil on canvas, 39.5 x 58.6 cm (15.5 x 23 in.). Phoenix Art Museum. Museum purchase.]

[Many thanks to Getty Publications for providing me with a review copy of Reconsidering Gérôme, edited by Scott Allan and Mary Morton. The Spectacular Art of Gérôme continues at the Getty Center through September 12, 2010.]

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