In 1931-32, Ben Shahn created a series of 23 paintings titled “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti” in response to the controversial trial and execution of two Italian-American immigrants accused of murder and armed robbery. Shahn’s iconic painting features Sacco and Vanzetti lying in coffins in front of a neoclassical courthouse. The case was plagued by ethnic bigotry and political intolerance, resulting in accusations that the men were not given a fair trial.
Shahn closely followed the case and believed that Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent. He used his art to draw attention to their plight, exhibiting “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti” in 1932 as his first major success. Even after their execution on August 23, 1927, Shahn’s artwork continued to inspire discussion about the case.
The series has inspired numerous works of art, including paintings and portraits by other artists who have been moved by the tragedy surrounding Sacco and Vanzetti’s story. Today, Shahn’s “The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti” stands as both a powerful artwork on its own terms and as an important symbol for those who continue to advocate for justice today.