Italian artist accused of antisemitism for new painting of blood libel
The painting is very detailed, showing a group of hook-nosed Jews with peyot and yellow, uneven teeth strangling the child and draining his blood.
By AARON REICHPublished: MARCH 27, 2020 06:28Advertisement
An Italian artist renowned for his baroque-style paintings filled with Christian imagery was met with controversy after unveiling his latest painting of the martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento, which is a depiction of Jews ritualistically murdering a Christian child, the Algemeiner .Painter Giovanni Gasparo uploaded a picture of his canvas to his Facebook page on Tuesday. Titled Martirio di San Simonino da Trento (Simone Unverdorben), per omicidio rituale ebraico (The Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento in accordance with Jewish ritual murder), the painting is very detailed, showing a group of hook-nosed Jews with peyot and yellow, uneven teeth strangling the child and draining his blood. Some of the Jews are also shown wearing kippot and shtreimels, with one in the center wearing a tallit over his head and shoulders. In addition, the child is shown with its arms outstretched, reminiscent of Jesus Christ on the cross as the Jews look on with apparent sadistic joy.The event depicted in the painting has some historical basis. A two-year-old child in the city of Trento named Simon went missing in March 1475. Historical accounts are divided on where exactly the body was found, but a prevailing rumor at the time was that it was found in the cellar of a Jewish man named Samuel.Regardless of the circumstance, the people of Trento lashed out brutally at the Jewish community over the Easter holiday, accusing them of the blood libel, the usage of Christian children’s blood in Jewish religious rituals. The Jewish community was made to confess after being subjected to torture, and 15 Jewish men were burnt at the stake. This sparked a wave of antisemitic violence fueled by the blood libel in cities in the region, including the expulsion of Jews.Within a year of his death, the local clergy of Trento were petitioning to have Simon canonized, meaning considered a saint, with over a hundred miracles being attributed to him. However, the Vatican under Pope Sixtus IV denied his martyrdom and refused to canonize him. Despite this, veneration persisted and eventually, the Vatican recognized his cultus and martyrdom in 1588 under Sixtus V, and he was considered the patron of victims of kidnapping and torture. However, he was never truly canonized by the church. This was made clear in an official letter by Pope Benedict XIV in 1755.“It is simply untrue to say that the Church has canonized little [Simon of Trento],” the letter stated. “A decree of beatification was issued by Sixtus V., which took the form simply of a confirmation of cultus and which allowed a Mass to be said locally in honor of the boy martyr. Everyone knows that beatification differs from canonization in this, that in the former case the infallibility of the Holy See is not involved, in the latter it is.”In 1965, as part of Nostra Aetate – the efforts to remove many of the antisemitic aspects of Catholicism, such as blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus – Pope John VI even removed Simon’s martyr status.The Catholic Church has even gone so far as to support museum exhibits to draw attention to the violent history in the legacy of St. Simon. In December 2019, the Museo Diocesano Tridentino in Trento launched an exhibition titled The Invention of the Culprit in cooperation with the local Catholic and civil authorities to draw attention to and debunk what the museum called a piece of "egregious fake news from the past" and "one of the darkest pages" in the history of antisemitism.The amount of gruesomeness in the artwork is not so surprising, with Gasparro’s artwork being known for his dedication to “sacred art – with a particular taste for the macabre and the grotesque (lots of flesh and lots of blood),” according to commentator Ester Moscati in the Italian-Jewish publication Mosaico, according to the Algemeiner.At only 36 years old, Gasparro’s artwork has been displayed in multiple countries for 20 years, and has been given numerous honors and awards. However, Moscati fears that the talented artist has put his talents into creating “a work that is full of anti-Jewish hatred, as if he felt the need, at a time when the fake news is going crazy, to dust off [similarly fake news] from the dark and gloomy past.”These sentiments were also shared by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.Writing a letter to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the center’s international relations director Dr. Shimon Samuels said he was shocked that a Catholic artist would reject the Nostra Aetate.The letter pointed out that it was no coincidence that the painting was unveiled on Tuesday, March 24, which is the traditional Feast Day of St. Simon. In addition, it was to be followed by a conference on April 3 titled The invention of the guilty and the concealment of the innocent – The case of San Simonino of Trento, though it was postponed due to the coronavirus.“Your Eminence, it is very disturbing that these festivals and conferences annually take place around Passover and Easter... The Second Vatican Council acted to forbid the veneration of Simon of Trent, in order to combat antisemitism in the Church. Nostra Aetate also began a long sought healing relationship between Christianity and Judaism,” the letter stated.“The work of Gasparro is apparently welcomed in Italian churches, but this painting clearly foments scapegoating in a climate of recurrent fake news, thereby undermining Vatican policy, and should receive a forthright public condemnation... We would appreciate Your Eminence’s assistance, as the blood libel is still bleeding!” Samuels’s letter concluded.Rossella Tercatin contributed to this report.
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