The J. Paul Getty Museum


Object Details




Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Dutch, 1836 - 1912)






Oil on canvas

Object Number:



178.4 × 80.3 cm (70 1/4 × 31 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

Barefoot young women and children adorned with flower crowns and playing musical instruments lead a procession through a city built of marble. Splashes of color, like the scarlet poppies and yellow daffodils, draw the eye across the canvas to explore the vibrant details of an ancient Roman festival, as meticulously reimagined by Dutch artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Spectators leaning over from the rooftops cheer and wave, while more reserved figures acknowledge the procession from the royal box under the central arch. The gold standard in front of them, raised on blue poles and decorated with purple garlands, bears a Latin inscription dedicated to Priapus, the god of nature, gardens, and fertility.

It is unclear exactly which festival Alma-Tadema meant to depict, but the many references from ancient Rome all indicate a springtime celebration of fertility and abundance, perhaps most resembling Floralia, honoring Flora, goddess of flowers. British May Day traditions were also rooted in the Floralia festival and were revived during the 1800s to celebrate spring and nature in the face of rapid industrialization. On May 1, children decked themselves and their village with flowers, danced, and crowned a May Queen. Such celebrations and this painting’s imagery connected contemporary British society to ancient Rome, an empire and aesthetic that the British empire saw as its predecessor and aspired to.

Alma-Tadema was an avid scholar of antiquity and kept an extensive library of photographs of ancient Italian architecture and sculpture. However archaeologically precise his paintings may seem, he took great liberties by fancifully combining motifs and decoration from different time periods and places. For example, the partly covered arch on the left bears the inscription from the Arch of Trajan in Benevento, Italy completed around A.D. 114–118, and directly underneath it, the circular spandrel relief borrows the river god figure from the Arch of Constantine in Rome, completed two hundred years later.

1895 - 1900

Robert von Mendelssohn, 1857 - 1917 (Berlin, Germany), sold to Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., 1900.

1900 - 1901

Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd. (London, England), sold to Charles Tyson Yerkes, 1901.

1901 - 1905

Charles Tyson Yerkes, 1837 - 1905 (Chicago, Illinois; New York, New York), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.

1905 - 1910

Estate of Charles Tyson Yerkes, 1837 - 1905 [sold, Yerkes sale, American Art Association, New York, April 5, 1910, lot 37, to Henry Reinhardt Galleries.]

1910 - 1912

Henry Reinhardt Galleries (Chicago, Illinois), sold to Thomas Frederick Cole, 1912.

1912 -

Thomas Frederick Cole, 1862 - 1939 (Duluth, Minnesota; New York, New York; possibly Pasadena, California)

- 1945

Edwin H. Fricke, 1889 - 1961 (Calistoga, California) [sold, Fricke sale, Parke-Bernet, New York, March 15, 1945, lot 35, through Lewis A. Stone to Mrs. Edward Lane.]

1945 - 1956

Hulett C. Merritt, 1872 - 1956 (Pasadena, California), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.

1956 - 1956

Estate of Hulett C. Merritt, 1872 - 1956 [sold, Merritt sale, Ames Art Galleries, Beverly Hills, June 3, 1956, lot 205, to Victor Emmanuel Wenzel von Metternich.]

1957 -

Victor Emmanuel Wenzel von Metternich (La Cañada, California), upon his death, held in trust by the estate.

- 1972

Estate of Victor Emmanuel Wenzel von Metternich [sold, Metternich sale, Sotheby's, Los Angeles, February 28, 1972, lot 27, to the J. Paul Getty Museum.]

Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts. MDCCCXCV. The One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh. (1895)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), 1895
Grosse Berliner Kunst-Ausstellung (May 7 to September 17, 1899)
  • Haupt-Ausstellungs-Gebäude (Berlin), May 7 to September 17, 1899
Exposition internationale universelle de 1900: Exposition rétrospective de l'art français des origines à 1800 (April 15 to November 12, 1900)
  • Galeries nationales du Grand Palais (Paris), April 15 to November 12, 1900
Inaugural Exhibition (January 17 to February 12, 1912)
  • Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo), January 17 to February 12, 1912
Selected Works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and the Auburn Permanent Collection (April 11 to April 30, 1976)
  • Auburn University (Auburn), April 11 to April 30, 1976
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A., 1836-1912 (July 3 to September 13, 1976)
  • Mappin Art Gallery (Sheffield), July 3 to August 8, 1976
  • Laing Art Gallery (Newcastle), August 21 to September 13, 1976
Picturing the Ancient World (May 4 to August 30, 1993)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), May 4 to August 30, 1993
Getty Highlights: 19th-Century Paintings and Sculptures (October 19, 2021 to January 9, 2022)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 19, 2021 to January 9, 2022

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Lovett, Jennifer Gordon, et al. Empires Restored, Elysium Revisited: The Art of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exh. cat. (Williamstown: Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, 1991), p. 73n2, under no. 21, entry by Jennifer Gordon Lovett.

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Education Resources
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