The Second Life of Alma-Tadema

Exhibition Alma-Tadema: Klassieke Verleiding, Fries Museum, Leeuwarden 2016-17

In 2016 I was honored to be part of one of the major projects in my career: the exhibition Lawrence Alma-Tadema: klassieke verleiding [classical seduction] at the Fries Museum [Frisian Museum] in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. Together with American expert of 19th century art Peter Trippi, Tadema-expert Elizabeth Prettejohn (University of York), and a team of the museum led by Frank van der Velde and Marlies Stoter, we worked for years on this wonderful exhibition, and also helped by the subsequent stages of the exhibition at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and the Leighton House in London. Along the road, I learned a lot on exhibition making, museum policies, communication, but I also often went back to my initial studies in art history. The exhibition in Leeuwarden was an enormous crowd puller and also widely attracted the Dutch and foreign press. The element of cinema within the Leeuwarden exhibition – my own contribution – was paramount and greatly contributed to the cross-medial approach of the curatorial team. I greatly invested in research on the topic of Tadema’s afterlife in cinema, going from Italian silent cinema of the 1910s to DeMille, and to finally Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000). When entering the exhibition, comparisons of art works and film clips were already shown to set people in the mood. And in the last hall, as a gran finale, the film clips were shown in slow motion, above the large paintings, enabling audiences to admire the paintings without the film flicker taking away their attention. But just one step back, they could make the connections, not only with the art work underneath, but also with other artworks nearby. I was thrilled with this design. Moreover, we were very lucky to have only film clips in color: either tinted or stencil colored silent films, or the color prints of Cecil B. deMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) and Scott’s Gladiator. In addition to pictorial citations, it was also about similarities in e.g. use of furniture and costume, and staging in depth.

Silver Favorites (Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1903). Russian pre-revolutionary postcard

Our team also greatly invested in connecting Tadema’s painted works with his own houses, as they were a kind of labs in his plays with space, his fascination for – mainly Roman – Antiquity, and his archaeological search for detail and authenticity, combined with a romanticized and domesticated vision of the past. It was so unlike a painter I had previously invested in because of his connections with Antiquity films: Jean-Léon Gérôme, more involved with the public, violent image of the Roman past. Through the project I also did telephone interviews with the production designer and costume designer of Gladiator: Arthur Max and Janty Yates. Max was one of the guests of honor at the opening in Leeuwarden and gave a witty dialogue together with Peter Trippi. Yates I met in person in 2017 while in London during a conference at the Leighton House show. Both were filmed while visiting the Leeuwarden or the London exhibit.

Quo vadis? (Enrico Guazzoni, Cines, 1913)

Today, I can finally present you the digital version of my article, ‘The Second Life of Alma Tadema’, as it appeared in the English-written catalog, re-baptized: Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity. Even if not only dealing with Italian silent film, it will become an important stepping stone of my forthcoming monograph on Italian silent cinema, within a crossmedial and transnational perspective. I already reworked part of the catalog article in an Italian-written, more historiographical article on Tadema and Guazzoni’s Quo vadis?, while I continued my research into ‘intervisuality’ and ‘antique props’ in a paper given on Guazzoni’s Antiquity film Fabiola (1918). This Fall I will be working on all this, thanks to a Fellowship by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS).

~ by Ivo Blom on April 30, 2021.

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