Friday, December 2, 2011
Lawrence Alma-Tadema - Vespasian hearing from one of his generals of the taking of Jerusalem by Titus
Price Realized (Set Currency)
signed 'L. Alma Tadema' (lower right, on the leg of the chair)
oil on panel
19½ x 15 in. (51 x 38 cm.)
Commissioned by Messrs Ernest Gambart, London, 1866;
from where purchased by Mariano de Murietta (Marquise de Santurce), Catalan, Spain, by 1866.
His sale; Christie's, London, 30 April 1892 lot 151 (490 guineas).
with Messrs H. Koekkoek, Rotterdam.
David Morrice, Montreal, Canada, by 1895.
The present picture, Vespasian hearing from one of his generals of the taking of Jerusalem by Titus, has been known by the various titles Reading, La Lecture, and The Dispatch.
It depicts Vespasian, The Flavian Emperor, listening as one of his generals reads a dispatch from his son Titus, who has just overrun Jerusalem in AD 70. The positive identification of Reading (the title used by Dircks, and supported by opus no. and date, in his formative article, 'The later works of Lawrence Alma-Tadema', Art Journal, December 1910) with La Lecture (Vosmaer's title) and The Dispatch (Grosvenor Gallery catalogue) has necessitated much research.
The long title (Vespasian hearing from one of his generals of the taking of Jerusalem by Titus) appears in three places without any reference to date or opus number. Vosmaer mentions this title at the very end of his unpublished catalogue raisonée of Tadema's work (no. 325). He states that the picture concerned was exhibited at Brakke Gand in Amsterdam in 1893. In 1880 the Illustrated London News describes the painting, then being exhibited at Arthur Tooth & Sons, and praises its conception: 'While testifying to [Alma-Tadema's] archaelogical studies, it is more ambitious and dramatic in subject than is customary with him'. The Christie's catalogue of 1892 entitles the picture Vespasian hearing from one of his generals of the taking of Jerusalem by Titus and describes it in similar terms to the Illustrated London News. More importantly, it gives the size and states that it was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1867.
However a label on the reverse of the panel, from the Exposition, gives its title as La Lecture. Vosmaer explains that La Lecture was Opus XXXIV and was painted in February 1866. This information allows us to identify La Lecture and Dirck's Reading as the same picture.
The Dispatch, the picture cited in the Grosvenor catalogue for the 1882-3 exhibition, was owned by Mariano de Murietta, the Marquis de Santurce. It was this same Marquis who sold a picture entitled Vespasian hearing from one of his generals of the taking of Jerusalem by Titus at Christie's in 1892. All the paintings by Alma-Tadema in the Marquis's collection (17 in total) have been accounted for except for The Dispatch and Vespasian. Since it is a dispatch that is being read to Vespasian, it is almost certain that the two paintings are one and the same.
However, in his annotated copy of the Grosvenor Gallery catalogue, Carel Vosmaer comments of no. 249: 'Bishop Venantius... is very beautiful'. Alma-Tadema painted only one picture of Venantius Fortunatus (1862), which was purchased by the Museum of Dordrecht in 1882. It seems that Vosmaer mistook the Gaulish general, reading his missive, for Fortunatus reading his poems.
We are grateful to Professor Vern G. Swanson of the Springville Museum of Art, Utah, for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.
at 1:00 PM