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Video transcript

I'm there I'm sitting on the cool marble I'm listening I'm wrapped I wanna be there I vomit adament has captured the beautiful light and the sea and this fabulously cool marble on this lovely summer day who doesn't want to be there what an incredible fantasy look at that marble the way the light moves through that stone if you look under the seat you can actually see the intense sunlight warming that marble and you can feel its crispness you can feel the edge as you're sitting there alma-tadema and we're looking at his painting a reading from homer from 1885 it was a master at capturing textures not just the marble but also the further the figure wears in the foreground or the flesh look at his feet he could really paint the figure on the right he's crowned with laurel leaves much like an ancient Greek god is reading from Homer and he's clearly acting it out in a dramatic way that has his listeners transported to mythic Homeric Greece so as the young orator is recalling mythic Greece and transporting his listeners alma-tadema the artist is transporting his viewers is transporting us and transporting the Victorians for whom this was made they've put down their musical instruments and they look as though they're seeing past him and they're in their own imaginations look at the way the young couples hands intertwine just so delicate and so graceful their hands were clasped but they're so taken with the story that's being told that they're almost forgetting that their hands are entwined so here's an academic artist that is truly a brilliant technician that is truly a brilliant craftsman and here's an artist who was enormous ly successful professionally and whose paintings went not only numerous awards but fetched very high prices and yet this is also an artist who the 20th century looked down on you know an art historian said that Alma was in the highest sense a superficial artist and that's because I think I'll meet Adam ax was very much giving the Victorians an art which flattered them which made them feel good and in the 20th century we value art that challenges us not that flatters us and so it's interesting to think about how this flattered the Victorian audience that it was made for I would imagine that the Victorians themselves looked back to ancient Greece as a source of their greatness that they were in some ways an inheritor of the way in which the Greeks had privileged culture had privileged the arts that's right and I would add ancient Greece and ancient Rome any Victorian looking at this painting would have identified with watching a reading or a theater performance and thinking about their own appreciation for the Arts so this was a moment in history when Britain is an empire and it is collecting works of art and works of culture from around the world and especially from Greece the Elgin marbles the great sculptures of the Parthenon are brought to London and put on display and in a sense what alma-tadema is doing is bringing those marbles back to life and instead of showing us the ancient Athenians involved in some kind of heroic battle we see them at a moment of leisure appreciating the arts everyone wants to be the heirs to ancient Greece and ancient Rome and Torian Empire was no different it's naturalism its realism is so high-pitched that it is absolutely believable and yet it is in so many ways much more a reflection of the 19th century than it is of the fifth century BC