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Maker(s):Rimmer, William
Culture:American (1816-1879)
Title:Massacre of the Innocents
Date Made:ca. 1858
Materials:oil on canvas
Measurements:canvas: 27 1/4 x 22 in.; 69.215 x 55.88 cm
Accession Number:  AC 1973.92
Credit Line:Gift of Herbert W. Plimpton: The Hollis W. Plimpton (Class of 1915) Memorial Collection
Museum Collection:  Mead Art Museum at Amherst College

Label Text:
William Rimmer’s Massacre of the Innocents re-creates the biblical story of Matthew 2:16, in which King Herod ordered the mass slaughter of Bethlehem’s infant males in an effort to kill the Christ Child. Rimmer focused on the trio of figures on a platform and painted a vaguely Greco-Roman landscape with a flaming background to evoke the Holy City and its environs. Overpowered by her son’s would-be assassin, a mother fights valiantly as his last line of defense.

New research suggests that Rimmer also intended this painting to function as an allegory of the abuses of “Slave Power,” the widespread nineteenth-century idea that the slaveholding American South was exercising and extending its interests through the channels of the federal government. Abolitionists often likened the South to Herod, whose henchman here attacks a figure symbolizing Liberty (dressed in red, white, and blue) and her offspring, thereby precipitating the downfall of civilization.

RRG, 2010

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