Dronrijp, Netherlands, 1836 – Wiesbaden, Germany, 1912
A Sculpture Gallery in Rome at the Time of Augustus
Oil on panel
61.5 x 46.9 cm
Purchase, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest, inv. 1980.2
Lawrence Alma-Tadema revelled in depicting antiquity in his paintings. Here, rich Imperial Roman art lovers are examining a bronze of the poet and dramatist Sophocles, while, in a double reading, the viewer who knows antiquity will also recognize celebrated ancient sculptures grouped together in the same place: from left to right, the Endymion Sarcophagus, the Laocoön, Penelope, ex Agrippina and Posidippus. Alma-Tadema took a keen interest in Graeco-Roman art: every detail of furnishing and architectural setting derives from specific historical sources in this recreation of the past so in keeping with the spirit of the nineteenth century. The artist also portrays, not without a touch of humour, his group of friends, who had challenged him to depict himself, with the red beard. The painting’s success at the Salon in Antwerp prompted the artist to then reiterate the theme in ten variations.