The Anti-Semite with Sparkling Pink Lipstick
New scholarship by UC Riverside art historian Jeanette Kohl argues that the bust is in fact that of Simon of Trent, a murdered child who became the focus of one of the most notorious blood-libel cults. Kohl proposes that Simon is represented standing in a bucket of his own blood—supposedly drained to bake matzah for Passover. The surface of the "blood" may have originally been painted red.
Kohl published her analysis in the Getty Research Journal with the title, "A Murder, a Mummy, and a Bust: The Newly Discovered Portrait of Simon of Trent at the Getty." The Getty's gallery label has been changed to identify the subject as Simon.
Simonino of Trent (a town in Northern Italy) was a 2-1/2-year-old boy who went missing on March 23, 1475. His mutilated and apparently tortured body was discovered on Easter day, in a sewer. The town's Christians blamed the Jews for the death. Over the next few months, and despite no credible evidence, the men of Trent's Jewish community were executed by hanging, and the women were expelled from the town.
|Michael Wohlgemuth and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, Simon of Trent Murdered by the Jews, 1493|
|Francesco Laurana, Bust of a Lady, c. 1470s. Frick Collection, New York|
With the bust of the child “martyr” Simon of Trent, the Getty has a unique and remarkable piece of Quattrocento sculpture in its collections. It is a major work of art, directly related to one of the most consequential and spectacular anti-Semitic blood libels in European history.… Some areas, such as the chest, forehead, and top of the head, “are polished smooth from handling”—typical of objects being touched and kissed by the faithful, which attests to a devotional cult that probably went on over a long period of time. An unknown visitor to the Getty seems to have recognized the much-venerated child, although at that point it had lost its “identity.” In the late afternoon hours of 22 July 1999, this particular bust of Simonino of Trent received what was probably its last act of religious devotion, unnoticed by the guards in the North Wing galleries. When a security officer made his rounds in the evening, he found sparkling pink lipstick on the bust—“someone had kissed the sculpture.”