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High-relief Massacre of the Innocents

Thomas Gaudiello 20th November 1685

High-relief realized on 20th November 1685 by Thomas Gaudiello, author of Naples.

Three-dimensional high-relief panel representing the Massacre of Innocent.
The high-relief is related to the tale present in Matthew’s gospel: King Erodes learning, from the visit of the Magi, of the birth of legitimate king of Israel, decided to drastically intervene sending assassins between the streets of Bethlehem to find all the children under two years and kill them.

The scene then takes place in Bethlehem in the square facing the palace of Erodes the Great.
In the foreground on the left there is a building with a fragmented profile, two levels, a central body and two lateral parts jutting out: maybe a palace or more probable an access door to the city.
On the lower part there are five lowered round arches entirely made with small mirrors framed with geometrics motifs and surmounted by circular decorative elements with portraits- that seem to be real transfer between the streets of the city. The front is embellished with pilasters surmounted by statues inside recesses. The manufacture of the half-columns recalls the one of the central obelisk of the square. In the junction part between the main body and the lateral ones we can see two little black recesses framed with rad and surmounted by two red porthole decorated with human portraits.

Altorilievo Strage degli Innocenti scritta

In the band between the two moldings- above the arches- we can find the inscription “Thomas Gaudiello Fabiebat Anno 1685 Die 20 Mensis 9bris”, that is author and date of the realization of the high-relief. Of the upper part of the building remain only part of arches partially destroyed.

In the space facing the building, around the central column- torciglione made on a base with several steps- takes place the tragedy.

The scene of the massacre is unrestrained: soldiers serving Erodes chase women and children with swords and daggers; mothers aim to bring to safety their children; children’s bodies on the ground; dogs are ripping apart little dead bodies.

Altorilievo Strage degli Innocenti completa

Into the high-relief, in the foreground, but on the right side, there is the palace of Erode the Great. The multiple body building is represented on severals floors: A portico follows the development of the ground-floor of the building; severals arched windows with balconies are at the first floor; than a series of circular openings. The symmetry of the openings of arches and portholes on the different levels is perfect. The main body has five openings for floor of which the bigger main one in the center; the body close to the walls has four arches while the one closet o the frame has two arches. Remarkable is the continuation of a part of the palace painted on the inner part of the frame.

In the square facing the Palace the massacre is cruel: at the entrance there are two armed in correspondence with main arc; Erode is looking out the window aiming to throw a baby; soldiers are following children taking them from their feet or grabbing them from their maternal arms; there are piles of rubble mixed with bodies. The red color is often use both for the clothes of women and soldier, and for macabre details: blood scattered on the ground gives testimony of the terrible accomplished act.

In the background there are the walls of the city with palaces, houses and churches placed on different levels. The realization is very detailed: remarkable are the decorations of the facades, the crenelation of towers and bastions, the excellence of the making of roofs and windows. The use of red and green is recurring also in the background.

Behind Bethlehem there are hills and on the far background there are some isolated houses, palaces, churches and the Palace of Erode. The panel is enriched with a bucolic scene: on the background hills is represented a herd with a shepherd and a piper. The valley is crossed by a river the divides the herds from the hill on which stands the palace of Erodes: a small bridge allows the access to the staircase that leads to the palace. The fortress is protected by walls with bastions and watchtowers.

The frame is contemporary to the art work and is carved with a wide molding that allows a space to contain the art piece; it is entirely painted with leaves motif partially covered from the coat of the time.

Inspect the high-relief

Biography Thomas Gaudiello

Active in Naples between 1688 and 1727

Wood and plastic sculptor, Guadiello is today known for his rare examples of polychrome three-dimensional high-relief panels made with wood and plaster representing landscapes of important cities.

Conserved in International museums and private collections, among which we can nominate the two landscapes of harbor cities at the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, dated 1726 and 1727, the view of Naples during the venetian occupation in 1686, signed and dated “THOMAS GAUDIELLO FECIT ANNO 1688”, today stored at the convent of the Sisters of the Visitation of Saint Bernard in Madrid. With this art works we can remember the landscape of Naples of the private Neapolitan collection.

Presso Convento delle suore della Visitazione di San Bernardo a Madrid.
Stored at the convent of the Sisters of the Visitation of Saint Bernard in Madrid.
Veduta del largo antistante la Chiesa del Gesù, Napoli, 1707. Collezione privata
Landscape of the lake in front of the Church of Jesus, Naples, 1707. Private collection

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