Vittore Carpaccio
The Crucifixion and Apotheosis of the Ten Thousand Martyrs of Mount Ararat

Accademia Gallery, Venice
Provenance: Church of Sant'Antonio di Castello

The crucifixion occupies most of the foreground and Mount Ararat most of the background, but the activity in the lower right corner seems to represent an earlier part of the story in which Acathius rallies his flagging troops to redouble their efforts against the army of rebels in the eastern regions of the Empire. The young soldier in the foreground pointing to the troops on the right should be Acathius in that moment. The troops are pictured as if they were Moslems, stereotypical easterners with turbans and a crescent-moon banner. Acathius himself is commonly pictured with two of his officers, as here. Most likely they are Eliades and Carterius, who figure prominently in the story.

One striking feature of the medieval account is that after the angel tells the soldiers they will be martyred and go to Heaven, "the holy ones, relieved of their fears, in a loud voice confessed their sins."1 Carpaccio appears to have responded to this emphasis on penitence by modeling Mount Ararat on the description of Mount Purgatory in the Divine Comedy. Like Dante the pilgrim, the martyred soldiers walk a spiraling path to the summit, where angels gather them up to a Heaven that is imagined as a set of concentric circles.

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Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Acta Sanctorum, June vol. 4, 183 (my translation).