Protests Greet ‘Repulsive’ Painting by Italian Catholic Artist Depicting Antisemitic Blood Libel
by Ben Cohen
A new painting by an Italian Catholic artist that promotes the antisemitic blood libel of medieval times met with outrage on Friday, as Jewish and Catholic commentators condemned the work and called on the Vatican to do the same.
As reported by The Algemeiner on Thursday, the painting — titled “The Martyrdom of St. Simon of Trento in Accordance With Jewish Ritual Murder” — was revealed by its artist, Giovanni Gasparro, on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
The work shows an infant boy surrounded by a crowd of sinister Jewish men, variously wearing side-curls and religious items, who strangulate him, cut him open and drain his blood.
It is based on one of the worst episodes in the history of the “blood libel,” which falsely accused Jews of using the blood of Christians in their religious rituals — the March 1475 disappearance and death of a 2-year-old boy named Simon in the Italian town of Trento, whose fate was blamed on the local Jewish community.
Regarded as a “martyr” by the Catholic Church for centuries, Simon of Trento’s status was removed by Pope Paul VI in 1965 — the year that the Second Vatican Council issued its historic “Nostra Aetate” Declaration disavowing antisemitism.
The legacy of “Nostra Aetate” was cited by many of those who expressed disgust at the antisemitic imagery that dominates Gasparro’s painting.
“It’s repulsive to see so many classic antisemitic stereotypes stuffed into a single painting,” Sohrab Ahmari — the oped editor of the New York Post who converted to the Catholic faith — told The Algemeiner after seeing the photographs of Gasparro’s canvas.
“It’s also a reminder of the wisdom and necessity of the Vatican Council’s ‘Nostra Aestate’ declaration,” Ahmari continued. “That clarified once and for all the Church’s opposition to antisemitism.”
Abraham Foxman — the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) who has actively promoted Jewish-Catholic dialogue — remarked that the appearance of the painting in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic was itself instructive.
“Crisis times bring out the best and the worst,” Foxman told The Algemeiner on Friday. “So while we continue to be shocked by the classic antisemitism that’s surfaced during the coronavirus crisis, we shouldn’t be surprised.”
Foxman observed that the “blood libel is one of the oldest antisemitic conspiracy themes to have resurfaced in recent weeks.” He further noted that it was “sad that it should surface in Italy of all places,” given the terrible toll wreaked by the coronavirus in that country.
“One new virus fuels the ancient virus of antisemitism,” Foxman said.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), pointed out that the painting’s appearance also coincided with the holidays of Passover and Easter.
“Now, on the eve of the Passover and Easter holidays, this Italian artist decides to promote the original, vicious, lurid, and long-debunked blood libel against the Jewish people through his art?” Cooper stated. “We have contacted Facebook to demand that they not provide their powerful social media platform for a screed that has led to the killing and maiming of Jews for hundreds of years.”
Cooper added that the SWC was urging the Catholic Church to condemn the painting. “This isn’t art, its hate,” he said.
Emails sent by The Algemeiner to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic Archbishop of New York, seeking his comment had not been answered by press time.
On social media, the painting attracted a mix of shock and fury, with many users asking how an old and discredited libel could reappear in the 21st century.
It's worth noting that the shooter last Passover at the synagogue in Poway, CA specifically mentioned Simon of Trent in his pre-attack, hate filled diatribe. This artist's work is not harmless. https://t.co/13mB94Gmlc
— Rob Levinson (@levinsor) March 27, 2020
This is straight out of the Middle Ages!
Old school antisemitism is back!
Blood libels are the rage again!
The artist is obviously terribly sick, but the Catholic Church ought to condemn the Antisemite whose art they once honored!https://t.co/SU6ZkPXuPF
— Dov Hikind (@HikindDov) March 26, 2020
Giovanni Gasparro is promoting a blood libel. And the Jewish community in Milan, Italy has taken notice. https://t.co/xHVQ7ci1nR
— Dexter Van Zile (@dextervanzile) March 26, 2020