Easter was on Sunday, Passover ended on Tuesday. the vernal equinox was on the 20th of March. Spring is a season of observances, rites, renewals and transfigurations. They come to us in forms both spiritual and earthly, generated by the dreams and compulsions of nature, of man, of the universe itself.
This time of year is full mystical promises. Spring soars. Spring elicits. Spring awakens and stimulates. It prompts us to act on our revitalized mood. We do “spring cleaning”, we begin digging and planting our gardens, we re-organize our closets and pantries, we dust off our bicycles and take them out out for a ride. We write interesting blog posts 😉 And for some artists, spring and its rituals provide the inspiration for really ambitious paintings.
The Dutch-born painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was heavily influenced by classical antiquity. When he and his wife married in 1863, they honeymooned in Italy where they spent time in Florence, Rome, and Naples. They also saw the ruins of Pompeii which had an especially profound effect on the 27 year old artist. After that experience, the aesthetic, architecture, and mythology of the ancient Greek and Roman world would inform Alma-Tadema’s art for many years to come.
One of his most famous paintings is Spring, an astonishing work of great beauty, composition, and faithful, meticulous detail. Whether Neo-Classical art is your thing or not, you have to tip your hat to Lawrence Alma-Tadema for this impressive creation. It took him four years to complete, and he used friends and family members, including his children, as models for the figures.
Spring is in the permanent collection of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and a nice description of the painting appears on their website:
A procession of women and children descending marble stairs carry and wear brightly colored flowers. Cheering spectators fill the windows and roof of a classical building. Lawrence Alma Tadema here represented the Victorian custom of sending children into the country to collect flowers on the morning of May 1, or May Day, but placed the scene in ancient Rome. In this way, he suggested the festival’s great antiquity through architectural details, dress, sculpture, and even the musical instruments based on Roman originals. Certain scenes in Cecil B. De Mille’s film Cleopatra (1934) were inspired by the painting Spring.
The ancient ancestor of the May Day celebrations was the Roman festival “Floralia”, held in honor of the goddess Flora who symbolized flowers and vegetation. The Roman version was pretty wild and debauched, with prostitutes (and nudity) dominating much of the revelry. Alma-Tadema naturally cleaned things up for his depiction in Spring, well aware of his Victorian audience’s more conservative sensibilities.
From Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, this is Spring, from 1894. To fully appreciate and examine the astounding detail of this masterpiece, click twice on the image to enlarge it. The file is huge! And there’s a lot to look at.