So how do you spot a Gérôme? Well, he largely painted two things: 1) Orientalist scenes, based on his travels to the Near East in the 1850s and 2) imagined scenes of antiquity. A public enemy of Impressionism, Gérôme was an expert drawer who used dense blocks of color and very much “kept within the lines.” Gérôme was influenced by early forms of photography, and his work is famous for the kind of incredible realistic details you might find in a photograph; at times, it has a certain “flatness” in scale, as you might also find in a photograph.
This particular painting was said to inspire director Ridley Scott to make the 2000 Best Picture film Gladiator. “Pollice Verso” means “with a turned thumb” in Latin, and Gérôme’s rendition of this scene popularized the Roman “thumbs down” signal of the bloodthirsty spectators in the Colosseum (in this scene, humorously offered by a gaggle of Vestal Virgins!).