The present work’s subject is inspired by the novella, The Amazon (1880, English translation 1884) by Alma-Tadema’s friend, the historian Carel Vosmaer, in which the main character is a Dutch artist named Siwart Aisma, based on Alma-Tadema himself. When Vosmaer accompanied Alma-Tadema on one of his many trips to Italy he remarked on the painter’s “astonishing accuracy, tirelessness and fire: he espied the door grooves, the bolt holes, everything, everything” (as quoted in Robert Verhoogt, Art in Reproduction, Amsterdam, 2007, p. 497). Not surprisingly, the plot follows the Dutch antiquary’s obsessive study of Roman sculpture collections, as well as his romance with the poet, Marciana van Buren (Barrow, p. 91). Alma-Tadema’s scene illustrates a moment where Marciana, shown in violet robes, extends her hand to a companion to examine her ring (the fetter), a token of her and Aisma’s love. The statue at the upper right of the composition, Spinario, alludes to Aisma’s interests in classical sculpture while aligning with Alma-Tadema’s own (he owned a photograph of the sculpture and it appears in multiple compositions). The scene seems to occur under the watchful eye of Aisma, who looms from the portrait hanging above them, inscribed Amo Te Ama Me (I love you, so love me too). The scale and format of the portrait suggests that it is based on a “Mummy portrait,” the naturalistic likeness affixed to Egyptian mummies during the Coptic period, dating from the Roman occupation of Egypt. Ebers was particularly interested in “mummy portraits,” and Alma-Tadema’s inclusion here casts a link across time and space, and further evidence of the artist’s voracious curiosity for the Ancient world.
A tour-de-force of nineteenth century painting and among Alma-Tadema’s most striking compositions, Love’s Jewelled Fetter was painted during an extraordinary period for the artist and the same year that he presented Spring (1894, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) at the Royal Academy. Unsurprisingly, it drew the attention of the progressive contemporary art collector, George McCulloch. Croal Thomson’s tribute to him, published in The Art Journal, read “The death of Mr. George McCulloch… removed the greatest patron of the artist to-day. From the first time he purchased a picture, this keen lover of the arts of painting and sculpture was imbued with the feeling that, for him, the works of the artists of his own time were most suited to his taste, and no persuasion ever carried him past that conviction.” He goes on to exhaustively list the artists included in the extraordinary collection, specifying that “Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s careful painting is adequately represented by The Sculptor’s Gallery [1874, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire] and Love’s Jewelled Fetter, the latter a brilliant piece of coloring” (The Art Journal, p. 43-4). Many works in McCulloch’s collection have become some of the most beloved in public institutions around the world, and when his sale took place in 1913, newspapers trumpeted record breaking prices for such celebrated British masterpieces as John William Waterhouse’s Saint Cecilia (1895, Private Collection), Frederic Lord Leighton’s Daphnephoria (1874-76, Lady Lever Art Gallery), Edward Burne Jones’ Love Among the Ruins (1894, Wightwick Manor, West Midlands), George Clausen’s Ploughing (Aberdeen Art Gallery) as well as continental works such as Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Pas Mèche (1882, National Gallery of Scotland) and Pauvre Fauvrette (1881, Glasgow Museums).
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