Faithful Unto Death
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
See also Christianæ ad Leones (Christians to the Lions).
The reverse of the painting has a caption written by Schmalz, reading "The Sect who were first called Christians at Antioch had / that day born good witness to their faith, in Rome. There in / the fierce glare of the Arena, waiting for the end. / Waiting, under the pitiless eyes of a blood-thirsty multitude, from Senator and patrician dame, to low baffoon & parisite. Waiting, till fear becomes/hope, & shame grows shameless before the promise of Death!" / Herbert Schmalz, 49 Addison Road, Kensington, London."
"It is the feast of Bacchus, and the pillars are painted red and ornamented with emblems of his worship, [although] the active rites are more fitted to please Moloch than the light-hearted consoler of Ariadne. Tier upon tier of expectant faces rise around the amphitheatre, whose floor is soft sand and whose ceiling the wonderful purple 'valerium' embroidered with the stars of the sorrowing heavens. Negro slaves clad in red and white direct a few late-comers to their seats. The Roman soldiers rest on their spears at the entrance, beside which sit some foreign ambassadors or guests of the great Caesar ... Great thought and skill have been bestowed on the architectural and archaeological detail, every point being carried out with unfailing conscientiousness, as shown by the vine leaf half-hidden in the sand and the bleached leg bones of some previous butchery unearthed by the chariot wheels of the passing Emperor." --Trevor Blakemore, The Art of Herbert Schmalz
"Yet there is a sillier picture in this year's Academy than Mr. Long's. Need we say it is Faithful Unto Death by Mr. Herbert Schmalz? The motto "Christianae ad leones!" explains the subject to be that depicted with masculine energy and learning by M. Gerome. The picture relies for merit and grace on the figures of naked girls (why are they all girls?) bound to the herms of red marble which are placed in the arena. The women are in various altitudes, some of them not wholly bad or affected, but their faces have no spontaneity and the best has but a set stare. Fear of the coming lions might have caused their hair to fall in ugly dishevelled masses, but it could not have caused their heards to swell as here depicted. It is a pity that Mr. Schmalz does not draw the nude with more grace and taste, refine the heavy contours of his models and give real dignity to their attitudes. Was it by way of a grim joke he put the well-picked human bones on the sane of the arena? The shocking nature of the subject does not enable us to overlook the weakness of this design, the trivial incidenie in the crowds of spectators and the vulgar pretentiousness which pervades the work.": The Athenaeum, Part I, p. 732 (1888).
The reproduction of the painting in Catalogue illustré de l'Exposition internationale de Bruxelles: Section de beaux-arts (1897) had the following caption: "Attendant la mort dans l'ardente clarté de l'Arène" ("Awaiting death in the fiery brightness of the arena").