Hail Caesar: paintings of the Colosseum and its spectacles, 1

The Eclectic Light Company

When the crowds at the Paris Salon of 1859 first saw Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting Ave Caesar, Morituri Te Salutant, its visual impact would have been very different from those on a modern viewer. It was unusual if not radical in three respects:

  • it has what we would now term a wide-angle or widescreen view;
  • it shows the well-known ruins of the Colosseum in Rome in reconstruction;
  • it shows a reconstruction in detail of gladiatorial combat in classical times.

geromeavecaesar Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904), Ave Caesar, Morituri Te Salutant (1859), oil on canvas, 92.5 x 145 cm, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT. The Athenaeum.

Its panoramic view had been used in some landscapes, but was unconventional to say the least in this type of motif. It is not derived from photography, though (although Gérôme was a pioneer in admiring photography and accepting it as an art): wide angle lenses weren’t developed…

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