Despite the discouragement of his goldsmith father, Jean-Léon Gérôme spent a trial period in the studio of a Parisian artist. There he struggled, painting religious cards and selling them on the steps of churches in order to survive. After a few years, he left for Italy.
In the late 1840s the French government gave Gérôme a monumental commission to paint the massive Age of Augustus. In preparation for this commission, he traveled extensively in Europe and Asia Minor, documenting the customs of various regions. He spent two years working on the painting, tirelessly perfecting details of the various ethnic groups. With the money realized from this work, Gérôme indulged his wanderlust and spent several months traveling and sketching in Egypt.
Gérôme's highly finished mythological and history paintings were anecdotal, painstaking, often melodramatic, and frequently erotic. For the last twenty-five years of his life, he concentrated on sculpture. His studio became a meeting place for artists, actors, and writers, and he was appointed a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts. Gérôme became a legendary and respected master, noted for his sardonic wit, lax discipline, regimented teaching methods, and extreme hostility to the Impressionists.