"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Thursday, August 18, 2016


This painting entitled Sappho and Alcaeus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema hangs in the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore Maryland.
"Sappho (/ˈsæf/; Attic Greek Σαπφώ [sapːʰɔ̌ː], Aeolic Greek Ψάπφω, Psappho [psápːʰɔː]) was a Greek lyric poet from the island of Lesbos. She was born sometime between 630 and 612 BCE, and it is said that she died around 570 BCE, but little is known for certain about her life. Sappho's poetry was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, and she was considered one of the canon of nine lyric poets. However, most of her poetry is now lost, and survives only in fragmentary form" -- Wikipedia
The label in the Walters Art Gallery read this way:
"In 1870, the Dutch-born, Belgian-trained artist Alma-Tadema moved to London, where he found a ready market among the wealthy middle classes for paintings re-creating scenes of domestic life in imperial Roman times. In this work, however, he turns to early Greece to illustrate a passage by the ancient Greek poet Hermesianax (active ca. 330 BC) preserved in Atheneaus, Deipnosophistae, "Banquet of the Learned," book 2, line 598. On the island of Lesbos (Mytilene), in the late 7th century BC, Sappho and her companions listen rapturously as the poet Alcaeus plays a "kithara." Striving for verisimilitude, Alma-Tadema copied the marble seating of the Theater of Dionysos in Athens, although he substituted the names of members of Sappho's sorority for those of the officials incised on the Athenian prototype." -- The Walters Art Gallery

 "The girl who stands next to Sappho almost appears to be a statue. Her arm is draped across Sappho’s back, which hints at a bond between the two figures. Indeed, this may be Alma-Tadema’s suggestion of the more than strictly platonic relationship between Sappho and her female students." -- Erin in Mythography, January 22, 2012
 "Alcaeus is on the right side of the work. The artist shows him in profile. He sits at a distinctive type of seat, called a klismos chair. Alcaeus is playing a kithara. This type of ancient Greek musical instrument offers an ideal space for artists to include decorative details. And indeed, Alma-Tadema has taken the opportunity to embellish the kithara with an image." -- Erin

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