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Sappho and Alcaeus

by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

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Sappho and Alcaeus - Description

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s 1881 oil painting Sappho and Alcaeus was completed in the artist’s traditional style of recreating scenes from antiquity. This painting was created solely for the entrance into a summer exhibition at the Burlington House in England. There it was liked by Alma-Tadema’s contemporaries. The painting depicts Sappho and Alcaeus, two lyrical poets from the island of Lesbos. The poet Sappho, seated with her hands folded beneath her chin, is listening to Alcaeus play his lyre. The painting’s subjects are arranged in a triangular pattern meant to keep the eye focused between them. What is created is an open space hanging between Alcaeus and the women in the marble risers. This gives balance to the painting, allowing for the triangular arrangement to open and flourish. In the background, dark green leaves atop a brown tree trunk compliment the muted white marble and sit placidly against a baby blue sky, a peacock blue ocean unfurling and spreading towards the horizon. The eye is kept in the area between the subjects rather than drifting off to the horizon or beyond. The humans, all consistent with Alma-Tadema’s practice of replicating fair skinned, rosy-cheeked people, sit and stand serenely. Their faces are as stoic as the landscape. The costumes of these characters as well as the architecture are testaments to Alma-Tadema’s imagination, displaying the artist’s ability to render classical elements to his liking without fear of displeasing his critics. The characters stand apart from nature, seated on a platform that wraps around in a manner similar to Alma-Tadema’s painting A Declaration. Behind them a tree grows suggesting that the music and poetry that these subjects create are as divine as anything growing from the earth might be.

Painting Details

Artwork Name: Sappho and Alcaeus

Original Artist: Salvador Dali
Subject: Portraits
Style: Classicism
Medium: 100% Hand-painted on Canvas
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