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 Alma-Tadema, Lawrence (Dutch and British painter, 1836-1912) , Pheidias and the Frieze of the Parthenon, Athens

Core Record

Title Pheidias and the Frieze of the Parthenon, Athens
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Alma-Tadema, Lawrence (Dutch and British painter, 1836-1912)
Date 1869 (dated)
Signed yes
Description Alma-Tadema first saw the Elgin marbles from the Parthenon at the British Museum in 1862. The picture depicts the sculptor Pheidias (about 490-430 BC) showing his work to important Athenians, inlcuding the Athenian leader Pericles (d. 429 b.c.) and his mistress, Aspasia.

Alma-Tadema depicts this pinnacle of Greek artistic achievement as a strongly coloured sculpture. It had been assumed since the Renaissance that classical sculpture was unpainted, expressing the purity and intellectual appeal of classical art. However, recent discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum had revealed the classical taste for sensual, vibrant colour, forcing scholars to reassess their interpretation of classical art and culture. Alma-Tadema's painting attempts to strip away false notions and recreate the Parthenon sculptures as they would have been appreciated by their very first audience, an image that would have appeared strange and rather alien to his own Victorian audience, familiar with the traditional view of classical art. Despite his iconoclasm, Alma-Tadema has absorbed Winckelmann's idea that the Greeks of the classical period were more beautiful and graceful than modern man. In their appearance and attitudes, these 'real' Greeks resemble classical statuary. Alma-Tadema has created an image of the classical past which would have seemed both familiar (in its equation between Pheidias' time and contemporary art exhibitions) and shockingly alien.

Current Accession Number 1923P118
Former Accession Number P.118´23
Inscription front ur 'L Alma-Tadema '69'
Subject history (Parthenon frieze, Pheidias, Pericles); figure
Measurements 72.2 x 110.5 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on panel (hardwood {mahogany})
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Sir John C. Holder, Bt. 1923.
Provenance bought by David Price from the artist, 1868; David Price sale, Christie's, 2 April 1892, lot 108, bought by McLean, £589 10s 0d.
Principal Exhibitions Brussels, 1869; Alma Tadema Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1883, cat. no. 24 as Phidias and the Elgin Marbles; Guildhall, London, 1890, cat. no. 112 as Pheidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends; Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy, London, 1913, cat. no. 22 as The Parthenon at Athens; Victorian Painting, Art Gallery, University of Nottingham, 1959, cat. no. 1; Victorian Painting, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, 1993, cat. no. 82; Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 1996 - 1997, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1997; Crystal Palace at Sydenham, Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2004; What they Loved: Bourgeois Worlds of the Nineteenth Century, Kunsthalle Krems, 2006.
Publications Amaya, M., 'The Painter who Inspired Hollywood', The Sunday Times Magazine, 18 February 1968; Victorian Painting, exhibition catalogue, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, 1993; Becker, E., E. Morris, E.Prettejohn and J. Treuherz (eds), Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Walker Art Gallery, 1997, p. 144; Henry, M. M. Prisoner of History. Aspasia of Miletus and her Biographical Tradition, Oxford, 1995, pp. 103-105; Flynn, T., 'Amending the Myth of Phidias. Quatremere de Quincy and the nineteenth century revival of chryselephantine sculpture', Apollo, January 1997, pp. 7-8; Swanson. V. G., Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, thesis, Courtauld Institute, 1994, p. 34, no. 104.
Notes This painting was bought by David Price in 1868 but was not shown in public until the opening exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 where it caused controversy, re-igniting the debate on whether classical sculpture had been coloured or not. The painting was first painted in 1868 and repainted in 1869. The figure of Pheidias was repainted and the figure of a stoic philosopher was painted out in order to please his client.
Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth



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