This striking sculpture, entitled Plaudite Cives by French master Jean-Léon Gérôme, is both powerful and slightly deceptive. Many scholars believe that it depicts a gladiator standing victorious over the lion he has slain. However, others are of the opinion the sculpture actually depicts a skilled belluaire, or lion-tamer, and the ferocious cat he has trained to "play dead," bowing for an audience and waiting for his applause. Under his feet, a plaque reads "Plaudite cives," or "Applaud, citizens." Regardless of the interpretation, there is no denying that this is a stellar example of Gérôme's brilliant vision.
,br>Gérôme favored subjects of Grecian and Roman themes. He first exhibited this exceptional piece at the Salon of 1898. One of a series of models of gladiatorial scenes from ancient Rome, it has been identified by Gerald M. Ackerman, author of the Gérôme catalogue raisonné, as showing a lion trainer and his charge rather than a gladiator and his victim. A gilt bronze version of this model is housed in the Musée Garret in Vesoul, France and this same subject is featured in Ackerman's opus.
Jean-Léon Gérôme was an academic artist who began his art studies with the famed Paul Delaroche, later enrolling into the École des Beaux-Arts. He garnered much acclaim for his sculpture as well as his paintings, winning awards at the prestigious Salon, and earning memberships into the Institute de Français, the Légion d'Honneur, the British Royal Academy and the Order of the Red Eagle, bestowed upon him by Prussian Emperor Wilhelm I.