Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902)
Nero’s Torches, 1876
Gift of the artist, 1879, which initiated the collections of the National Museum in Krakow

material: oil on canvas

dimensions: 385 × 704 cm

description: The painting, marked as collection item no 1, was donated by the artist in 1879, thus inaugurating the collection of the National Museum in Krakow. Siemiradzki uses the immense canvas to present the theme of the persecution of early Christians by Nero. The emperor’s contemporaries accused him of setting fire to Rome in 64 AD. Fearing the consequences, the ruler blamed it all on Christians, who were very unpopular in the Roman society. The artist painted a scene with Christians being burnt alive in Nero’s gardens. A variety of feelings are visible on the faces of the onlookers, ranging from the wild bestiality of drunken Romans, through the cold indifference of the beautiful ladies and dashing young men, to fear and feel compassion for the alleged arsonists. The artists modelled the reliefs and architectonic details visible in the painting on ancient relics preserved in Rome, Pompeii, and Naples, as well as on later works on ancient architecture. As far as the ideology behind the canvass is concerned, the artist presented two groups of people: the Roman elite, mostly degenerated or intimidated by the despotic Nero, and the steadfast Christians ready to die for their faith. On the frame of the painting one can make out an inscription from Gospel according to St. John – Polish equivalent for: “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”. It was mainly because of this inscription that the painting was seen as a metaphor for resistance against violence and the despotic rule of the tsar in Poland and Russia. It was a symbol of future victory of those who are now weak and held in contempt.

exposition: The Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art in Sukiennice,
The Cloth Hall, 1, Main Market Square

key: Around the academy >>>

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