alma-tadema's 'amo te ama me'

alma-tadema, the seducer

Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912), who was born in the Frisian town of Dronrijp, painted this scene in 1881. He called it Amo te ama me, which literally translates into ‘I love you, so love me too.’

Tadema painted the amorous couple in a Roman setting as is evident from the marble seat and the couple´s clothing. But this is a love that could just as well be happening right now. Tadema’s fans simply adored these types of paintings. Roman antiquity was highly fashionable at the time and scenes such as these weren’t difficult to understand. His vivid paintings draw in the spectator. Some details are breathtakingly realistic, for example, the marble which almost seems translucent. 

Tadema´s success drew clients from all over the world to his house in London, commissioning paintings from his hand. This painting was commissioned for the residence of the immensely wealthy banker Henry Marquand in New York. Tadema knew exactly what his audience wanted to see, and he had moved to London because he knew his paintings would sell better there. His large house and studio – decorated from top to bottom in Roman style  – were famous, and Tadema became a wealthy man. However, when he died in 1912, these types of settings were considered too saccharine and had become outmoded. All of a sudden a work by Tadema was seen as kitsch, of no value, and was no longer in demand.

Caption: Laurens Alma Tadema, Amo te ama me, 1881, oil paint on board, acquired with support from the Rembrandt Foundation, Mondriaan Foundation and the Wassenberg-Clarijs-Fontein Foundation

 

Hollywood film directors, however, had a very different appreciation for his works. Shortly after Tadema’s death, films became the latest popular amusement. The exciting stories, the decors and the atmosphere portrayed in Tadema´s paintings were most sought after by the filmmakers. Moreover, Tadema very astutely knew how to paint the instant of time just before the supreme moment. His paintings are incredibly alluring and cry out to be filmed. And that’s what Hollywood did: blockbuster spectacle films on Roman themes such as Cleopatra (Cecil B. De Mille, 1934), Ben Hur (William Wyler, 1959), Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960), as well as more recent films, are Tadema paintings come to life. Several computer games undeniably contain influences of his work.

Although Tadema obviously did not participate in these projects, he would probably have acknowledged his artistic influence, having designed theatre decors and costumes himself. His house in London was the place to be and guests felt as if they were performing in a ‘real-life Tadema’, which naturally seduced many into ordering a painting.

 

The Fries Museum has won the Turing Toekenning 2015 for the exposition about Alma-Tadema. The Turing Foundation awards this price with a value of 500.000 euro once every two years for the best exposition plan of a Dutch museum.