Sunday, February 8, 2009


by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 — 1912)


Lawrence Alma-Tadema enjoyed a long, distinguished career followed by what might well be the most precipitous fall from popularity of any of his contemporaries.
With the death of Victoria in 1901 and the end of the age she presided over, tastes in art changed, but Alma-Tadema did not. Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and a number of other schools of art emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, and Alma-Tadema was quickly forgotten. 
John Ruskin, an eminent art critic of the period, described him as "the worst painter of the nineteenth century." Ruskin was a bit of a blowhard.
In that most of the female subjects in his paintings were modeled by his wife and daughters, it's perhaps not surprising that Alma-Tadema painted relatively few nudes. This is rather a shame, as he was clearly good at them. Legend has him painting a number of erotic works for Edward VII, which none of Edward's descendents have permitted to come to light — probably not surprising if you consider who Eddy's descendents are. In the Tepidarium, above, is easily the most recognizable of his nudes. It was painted in 1881.
In the Tepidarium is another fanciful depiction of classical Rome. The public baths enjoyed by Romans were built in three chambers — the Caldarium, or hot room and the Frigidarium, or cold room, both of which opened onto the Tepidarium, where bathers could lie about, converse, drink and plot the downfall of the empire if the mood struck them.
Alma-Tadema's painting is clearly somewhat inaccurate — no self-respecting Roman woman would have held her fan like that.

"Ποταμοῖς τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐμβαίνομέν τε καὶ οὐκ ἐμβαίνομεν, εἶμέν τε καὶ οὐκ εἶμεν."

"We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not."
Heraclitus the Riddler

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