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Gladiator Plaque 'POLLICE VERSO' (THUMBS DOWN)


Maker(s): 
Date: CIRCA 1880-1900
Materials/Techniques:   
Dimensions:
Origin: FRENCH (?)
Inventory #: 344
Inscription:
DIORAMA • CIRCA 1880-1900 • AFTERTHEORIGINALOILPAINTINGOF1872BYJEAN-LÉONGÉRÔME(1824-1904) • CARVED IVORY, CARVED AND EBONIZED WOOD FRAME •
HEIGHT 15" • LENGTH 19" • UNMARKED

Other:


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This muki-layered diorama is directly inspired by the painting 'Pollice Verso' of 1872 by Jean-Léon Gérôme (see fig.l8), which today is in the collection of the Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona, U.S. The well-known image depicts a scene from the Roman Coliseum of gladiators in battle. Gérôme's picture depicts the moment when one gladiator has defeated another, and looks to the spectators for their signal (with a thumb up or down) as whether he should kill the opponent or spare his life; the Emperor, seated in the center makes the final determination based on the consensus of the rambunctious audience.

Ivory carvers since the 17th century in Europe have always looked to painting, sculpture and literature for inspiration in their subject matter. In the 19th century, these influences were broadened to include political events, noteworthy individuals and music. It is quite common to find ivories, for example, depicting Napoleon I and Admiral Nelson or figures and relief plaques with scenes borrowed from the operas of Richard Wagner. This plaque is a very ambitious example of translating a two dimensional painting into a three dimensional relief, especially because the painting itself is so full of detailed imagery. The technique of adding ivory elements in successive layers to achieve a three dimensional effect, which must have been tedious and laborious, appears to have originated in the 19th century, although there does not appear to be any consensus as to where they were produced. Interestingly, Gérôme himself was inspired to create a sculpture inspired by this same painting, executing the 'Gladiator' (bronze, Fort du Mont Valérien) in 1878, for which he won a Medal of Honor.