If you think that a thumbs up in ancient Rome meant that the beaten gladiator would live and that a thumbs down meant death, you can thank Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1872 painting Pollice Verso (shown above) for that. In reality, thumbs down meant “stick your sword in the ground” and no kill. Thumbs up meant “stick the sword in his neck.” It’s amazing to us today to think of how a single painting could generate such a widespread idea, but Gérôme enjoyed that kind of influence in the nineteenth century thanks to his show-stopping scenes of the ancient world and exotic east.
Please go over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Thumbs Up."
The Spectacular Art of Gérôme is featured at the Getty Center through September 12, 2010 (click here)