Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.

Details & Cataloguing

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, O.M., R.A.

signed and dated l.r.: L. Alma-Tadema 67

oil on panel

46.8 by 60.7 cm.; 18 ½ by 24 in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report


Commissioned by Ernest Gambart, London, 1867;
José de Murietta, Marquis de Santurce, by 1867, his sale, Christie's, 7 April 1883, lot 163 (sold for £535 10s.);
Sir Sam Wilson, his sale, Phillips, 28 February 1912, lot 15 (sold for £462);
W. W. Sampson, London, until 1912;
William E. Cain, Wargrave, Berkshire, his sale, Sotheby's, 14 June 1966 (bought Fine Art Society, London);
Charles F. Stein, Baltimore, Maryland, by 1972;
Private collection


Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae, 1867, no. 201;
Ghent, 1868, number not known;
Roubaix, 1869, number not known;
London, Grosvenor Gallery, Winter Exhibition of the Works of Lawrence Alma Tadema, 1882, no. 92;
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Winter Exhibition, 1913, no. 46;
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 1913, no. 1021


Carel Vosmaer, 'Alma Tadema Catlogue Raisonné', MS, c. 1885, p. 58;
A. G. Temple, The Art of Painting in the Queen's Reign: Diamond Jubilee, 1897, pp. 193-4;
John Belcher, 'The Royal Gold Medal, 1906, presentation to Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema', Journal of RIBA, 3rd series, III, 30 June 1906, p. 445;
Rudolf Dircks, 'The later works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema O.M., R.A., R.W.S., Art Journal Christmas issue, 1910, p. 27;
Apollo, November 1966, repr. p. xlix;
Vern Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonne of the Paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1990, p. 143, cat. no. 88

Catalogue Note

This was Alma-Tadema's first subject representing an event from Roman political life, and depends on the following account given by the Roman historian Suetonius of the succession of Claudius to the imperial throne after the murder of Gaius Caligula: 'When the assassins of Gaius shut out the crowd under the pretence that the emperor wished to be alone, Claudius was ousted with the rest and withdrew to an apartment called the Hermaeum; and a little later, in great terror at the news of the murder, he stole away to a balcony hard by and hid among the curtains which hung before the door. As he cowered there, a common soldier, who was prowling about at random, saw his feet, and intending to ask who he was, pulled him out and recognised him; and when Claudius fell at his feet in terror, he hailed him as emperor.' (From Rosemary Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 2001, p. 61).

Tiberias Claudius was the youngest son of the Emperor Nero and Antonia, and the uncle of Gaius Caligula. From childhood he had suffered chronic illness; furthermore, he stammered and could only walk with difficulty. He was held in contempt within the imperial family, and was largely ignored in political terms during the reign of Caligula. Thus, his acclamation as emperor after the assassination of Gaius Claudius in 41 was most unexpected. The scene represented by Alma Tadema was that when Claudius, who had hidden himself in the imperial palace, fearing that he too would be murdered, was discovered by soldiers of the Praetorian Guard. He pleaded for mercy, while they saluted him as Gaius' successor with the words 'Ave Caesar! Io Saturnalia!' The Roman Senate had intended to restore the republic, but found that the reign of Claudius as Emperor was established before they could act to prevent it.

This work of 1867 was the first of three representations of the subject by Alma-Tadema. The second, A Roman Emperor A.D. 41, appeared at the Royal Academy in 1871 (FIG 1. Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Maryland), and the third, Ave Caesar! Io Saturnalia (Akron Art Institute, Ohio), was painted in 1880. As Elizabeth Prettejohn has explained in her catalogue entry for the Baltimore version of the subject (Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exhibition catalogue, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 1997), the artist seems to have been particularly intrigued by a subject that is both droll and violent, despite his usual disinclination to paint subjects with political implications. In 1871 the theme was understood in terms of the threat to the due processes of government that military power might represent, as this was the first occasion when an Emperor had been chosen by the army rather than the Senate.

The historical subject was presumably suggested to Alma-Tadema by the London-based picture dealer, Ernest Gambart, who had commissioned the work as part of a series of thirty-four paintings (which the artist produced in just three and a half years). The ease with which Gambart found he could sell these works (the present work went to José de Murietta, Marquis de Santurce, a Spanish banker living in London) led him to encourage the artist to move from his native Holland to London, which he did in 1870.

Victorian & Edwardian