Articles

Some Roman Ultra-Violence

Check out this astonishingly violent, horrid painting! It is by 19thC French painter and sculptor Jean-Léon Gérôme who made many historical and Orientalist paintings. Many of his works are tinged with a strange sickly eroticism but this one is positively sick-making, in a fun Roger Corman / Tarantino kind of way. (the picture is in a private collection and is rarely seen, maybe never; would love to know who’d put this on his wall )

ean-Léon Gérôme [CLICK IMAGE TO EXPAND] Gathering Up the Lions in the Circus Source: https://www.pubhist.com/w38153
Jean-Léon Gérôme [CLICK IMAGE TO EXPAND]
Gathering Up the Lions in the Circus Source: https://www.pubhist.com/w38153
It depicts the end of a “typical” session of the Roman Games when the evil emperors would put a bunch of Christians in the ring with the lions, and watch the lions tear the Christians apart.  The scene was probably influenced by the stirring descriptions of the carnage in the novel Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz. In the 1951 film of Quo Vadis meat was stuffed in “dummies” dressed like Christians and the lions – who had probably (and unethically) been starved before hand – tore them to pieces.  Today, hopefully, we would not treat animals like that; thank god for CGI.

human ‘torches’ – people burned alive while hung from posts.
horrible chunks of flesh lying on the ground and a man whipping a lion. what’s not to dislike here?
now the gendered violence. an inexplicably naked, almost un-chewed woman lying provocatively in the gore. Fully disgusting.

These horrors were described in detail by the Roman historian Tactius. Remember, the term ‘historian’ did not mean then what it means today. Today you have to have a history degree to call yourself that. Ideally more than one degree. Tacit did not and basically his history of Rome under Nero – including the ultraviolence rendered here visually by Gérôme – was written at the behest of Nero’s enemies, meaning it is a hatchet job. Modern historians do not think that things were quite like Tacitus describes them, though his account of the factional fighting among the Roman elite was probably pretty accurate. 

Interestingly, Quo Vadis author Sienkiewicz was himself probably inspired by the Polish academic history painter Henryk Siemiradzki; Siemiradzki’s Nero’s Torches, 1877 shows the decadent Emperor enjoying a lavish party while to the right of the painting a row of human torches is in the process of being lit. Imagine the smell!!!

Henryk Siemiradzki Nero’s Torches [CLICK IMAGE TO EXPAND]
source: wikimedia.org
It’s probably redundant to say this, but there is actually NO evidence that Christians were ever fed to lions as public entertainment. Persecuted, they were; executed, sometimes. But gobbled up in the arena, probably not.

Text ©Gillian McIver all right reserved. Images sourced online as indicated, fair use applies.

BROOKLYN BRIDGE: light, color, composition

JOSEPH STELLA BROOKLYN BRIDGE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART; photo: self

I have been in NEW YORK solely for the purpose of LOOKING AT ART. What was the most cinematic painting I saw? Oooooh, so many! American art was a revelation! One of my favourites is BROOKLYN BRIDGE by Joseph Stella, at the Whitney Museum. Notice how Stella brings together elements of abstraction, expressionism and realism! Walking around the bridge on both sides f the river, and seeing it in different lights, I understood exactly what Stella was doing. Making me think, how would I light and compose the bridge if it was a film shot? When I got home, and I crossed Hammersmith Bridge in London I started to think about that. …

 

Text ©Gillian McIver all right reserved. Images  as indicated, fair use applies.

Welcome!

Giorgione - Three_Philosophers [Google_Art_Project]
Giorgione – Three_Philosophers [Google_Art_Project]
Since cinema’s earliest days, literary adaptation has provided the movies with stories; and so we use literary terms like metaphor, metonymy and synedoche to describe visual things. But there is another way of looking at film, and that is through its relationship with the visual arts – mainly painting, the oldest of the art forms. Art History for Filmmakers is an inspiring guide to how images from art can be used by filmmakers to establish period detail, and to teach composition, color theory and lighting.

The book Art History for Filmmakers – published by Bloomsbury Press and available for all good book dealers – looks at the key moments in the development of the Western painting, and how these became part of the Western visual culture from which cinema emerges.

As the author of this book I’m looking forward to readers’ comments and questions. I will also post my own short film and exhibition reviews and information.