Pollice Verso is a painting by French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, created in 1872. The painting depicts a scene from ancient Rome, where a gladiator stands in the center of a coliseum, while the audience awaits the emperor's decision on whether to spare him or kill him.
The title "Pollice Verso" means "with the thumb turned" in Latin, referring to the thumbs-up or thumb-down gesture the audience would make to indicate their decision.
The painting is famous for its vivid and dramatic depiction of ancient Roman arena and gladiatorial games. Gérôme was known for his attention to detail and historical accuracy, and he did extensive research to ensure that the clothing, weapons, and other details in the painting were accurate to the time period.
An interesting aspect of the painting is the use of light and shadow to create a sense of depth and drama. The glowing spotlight-like effect on the gladiator's body draws the viewer's attention to the center of the painting, while the dark, shadowy figures of the audience members create a sense of foreboding and tension. Overall, "Pollice Verso" is a powerful and iconic depiction of gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, showcasing Gérôme's skill as an artist and his fascination with history and classical culture.
Another interesting fact about the painting "Pollice Verso" by Jean-Léon Gérôme is that it is actually based on a misconception. The painting depicts a scene from ancient Rome in which a gladiator awaits the emperor's decision on whether to spare him or kill him. The audience, looking down from the stands, give their verdict with a thumbs up or thumbs down gesture.
However, the idea that a thumbs up gesture means the gladiator should be spared and a thumbs down means they should be killed is actually a misconception. In reality, it was quite the opposite: a raised thumb meant the gladiator was to die, while a clenched fist with the thumb tucked in meant the gladiator was to be saved.
Despite this historical inaccuracy, the painting has become a popular and iconic depiction of gladiatorial games in ancient Rome. Its dramatic lighting and composition, as well as its vivid portrayal of the emotion and brutality of the games, continue to capture the imagination of viewers today.
Pollice Verso captures the drama of the gladiatorial spectacle so intoxicating for Alypius in book 6 of the Confessions. The painting was supposedly a central inspiration for the creators of the Gladiator movie.
Pollice Verso is ranked no. 36 on the list of famous paintings