Saturday, 25 January 2014

Alma-Tadema - Roman Visions

Victorian Britain (1837-1901) was more than a little obsessed with the Roman era - from their Queen, who was named after the Roman Goddess of Victory, to the expanding British empire which bore similarities to that of Rome's, to the copious number of Romanesque artworks produced in the United Kingdom during that time. Of all the painters dealing with Roman themes none was more popular than Dutch-born Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) - a prolific painter who specialised in depicting (somewhat romanticised) scenes of everyday life in the classical world. While some of his work seems a little kitsch these days, some of it is wonderfully evocative and brings the ancient world to life. In homage to this true Romanophile, here follows some of my favourite Roman-themed works by Alma-Tadema.

Click on image to enlarge

The decorative marble floor and brightly painted wall in the image below is typical of ancient Roman architecture - but only the wealthy (and their slaves) lived in homes like this. In Rome itself most people lived in apartments. As we can see the sea in the background, Alma-Tadema perhaps intended to depict a villa in a wealthy seaside town, such as Herculaneum (destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE).
"An Oleander" (1882)

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Roman Calendar

"Spring's Innocence" by Norman Lindsay (1937)
Living in Sydney, where the seasonal calendar is the reverse of that of Rome’s (so that when it is winter in Rome it is summer in Sydney and vice versa), I have tended to not pay too much attention to the traditional polytheistic calendar of ancient Rome – for so many ancient celebrations were related to the seasonal cycles of Europe. I am also mindful of the fact that many ancient festivals celebrated the founding of temples that have long since fallen into ruin – if the temple no longer exists then celebrating its coming into being seems somewhat incongruous.  And then there is the fact that I don’t know too many Roman oriented polytheists – so with whom do I celebrate these festivals? 

Turning aside from contemporary concerns, I note that even when Rome’s empire was at her height there was no such thing as a universal Roman calendar of religious festivals, for each region of the empire established their own calendar, which did not necessarily mirror the calendar in Rome (Scheid, An Introduction to Roman Religion at 41-42). Furthermore, the religious calendars varied from century to century, so not only were they not uniform from region to region, they were not uniform from century to century either.