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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

An Artist looks back at Ancient Rome

This gallery is based on paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and the connections between them and artifacts from Ancient Rome. By engaging with this artist's paintings alongside artifacts similar to those he studied in Pompeii in 1863, the student will begin to discover the sensibility of a 19th C. artist as well as the Art and Culture of an Ancient time.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, an important and highly regarded 19th C. painter from Europe was fascinated with the Ancient World. He travelled to Italy in the 1860's to study the ruins and artifacts that had been unearthed in Pompeii. He recorded what he saw there with extensive drawings and photographs. Alma-Tadema was an avid student of the ancient culture of Rome, reading many of the scholarly publications that came on the heels of the discovery of the buried city of Pompeii. Through the careful examination of the paintings in this gallery the student will discover how Alma-Tadema made use of these primary sources to accurately depict the ancient world in his paintings.

Grade Level: can be adapted for middle and high school students (Visual Arts/ History/Social Studies/ Literary Arts [high school only])
Learning Goals:
• To introduce the paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and learn about him and his explorations of the ancient world
• To introduce the idea of an artist using primary sources to accurately depict an era different from his own (Historical Painting)
• To introduce primary sources and their role in the study of ancient worlds
Extended learning opportunities:
Middle school and High school students may wish to learn more about the ancient city of Pompeii
Advanced language art students may want to research/read the works of the Roman poet Tibullus
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was a well known, very successful painter specializing in historic paintings, from the later 19th Century. Originally from Antwerp, the Dutch born artist travelled to Italy during his honeymoon. There he discovered a wealth of antiquities from ancient times. He returned in 1863 to visit Pompeii, where he made many freehand studies of the excavated artifacts and ruins he saw there. These items became the centerpiece of much of his work from then on. He was renowned for his ability to paint marble and granite, and used this skill frequently in his historically accurate paintings.
Alma-Tadema’s work appealed to an audience that was fascinated with the past, the interest in the excavations at Pompeii and other archaeological sites was in its heyday and there was much written about the findings at these dig sites, in scholarly papers as well as popular novels. Alma-Tadema was known to have been an avid student of ancient culture and kept copious records of all that was being written about it.