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The Massacre of the Innocents with Herod
Gerolamo Mocetto
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This panel and The Massacre of the Innocents once formed a single image, with this scene on the right. It was cut into two before entering the National Gallery’s collection. The bearded man wearing a crown is King Herod – he is overseeing the massacre of infants that he had ordered in an attempt to kill the newborn Christ. Herod regarded Christ as a threat to his rule because he was being called ‘the king of the Jews’.

Several of these figures, including the Roman soldier gesturing toward the violence at the centre of the scene, are directly copied from The killing of the Sow (British Museum, London), an engraving by Mocetto set in ancient Rome and seeming to show a pagan ritual. The architectural setting imitates the style and materials of ancient Greek and Roman buildings. This interest in antiquity reflects that of Mocetto’s predecessor Mantegna, who was also working in the Veneto.

Key facts
Artist Gerolamo Mocetto
Artist dates about 1458 - 1531
Full title The Massacre of the Innocents with Herod
Group The Massacre of the Innocents
Date made about 1500-25
Medium and support Oil on canvas, presumably transferred from wood
Dimensions 67.9 x 44.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1888
Inventory number NG1239
Location in Gallery Not on display
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The Massacre of the Innocents

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When Herod, King of Judea, found out about the birth of Jesus, who was being called ‘the king of the Jews’, he ordered the killing of all children under the age of two, an event known as the ‘massacre of the innocents’ (Matthew 2: 16).

These two pictures once formed a continuous image, but it was cut up before entering the National Gallery’s collection. The picture showing Herod overseeing the slaughter was originally to the right. The architecture – for example, the balustrade – continues from one scene to the next but the alignment is not seamless, suggesting that both paintings were cut down at the inside edge.

Paintings by Mocetto are quite rare; he is better known as an engraver. He has placed his signature on the pedestal supporting the column of Herod’s palace: HEROL/EMO / MOCETO / P.[INXIT] (‘Gerolamo Mocetto painted this’).

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