The fine arts, but above all sacred art, ‘of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands….'”
Catechism of the Catholic Church (2513)
Nero’s Torches is an 1876 painting by the Polish artist Henryk Siemiradzki. It is also known as Candlesticks of Christianity. It depicts a group of early Christian martyrs who are about to be burned alive as the alleged perpetrators of the Great Fire of Rome, during the reign of emperor Nero in 64 AD.
A reflection on the painting by Patrick van der Vorst
A while ago a friend of mine explained to me about the 5 stages of religious persecution and its practical political workings:
Stage 1 is to stereotype the group you want to target for persecution.
Stage 2 is to start vilifying the targeted group and accuse them of crimes or strange conduct. It would have been easy to vilify the early Christians as they gathered in secret to consume the blood and body of Christ…
Stage 3 is to start marginalising the targeted group in society and make sure they don’t get certain jobs, are left out of events, etc…
Stage 4 is to actually criminalise the group, such as making Christian gatherings illegal during the persecutions.
Stage 5 then moves to full-on persecutions and killings.
Whilst the above unfolding pattern can be applied to the early Christian Church, persecutions still sadly happen to this day.
Nero’s Torches is a painting from 1876, by Polish artist Hendryk Siemiradzki. The painting has two titles. Its other title is: Candlesticks of Christianity, which makes what is depicted even more poignant. Our painting shows a group of early Christian martyrs who are about to be burned alive as the alleged perpetrators of the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD, during the reign of Emperor Nero. We see the Emperor himself looking on, whilst bacchanalian scenes are taking place around him… all ready to watch the Christian martyrs being set alight, right in front of the Domus Aurea, Nero’s palace.,..which is well worth a visit when you are next in Rome, in remembrance of the early Christian martyrs…
Used with permission. As first published at Christian.Art, They Will Persecute You Too, Gospel Reflection of 16 May 2020, by Patrick van der Vorst; https://www.christianart.today/en/daily-gospel-reading/423. Patrick is a former Director of Sotheby’s London and founder of ValueMyStuff.com. In September 2019 he started seminary at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome for the Diocese of Westminster, London.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Truth Beauty, and Sacred Art (2501)
Created “in the image of God,” man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man (CCC 2501).
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Saint Paul, Letter to the Philippians (4:8)
Saint Paul, Apostle, Martyr, pray for us
Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always. Holy Family pray for us. Amen.