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About the Object
Alma-Tadema, who was trained in Holland, emigrated to Britain, where he achieved enormous success. "The Sculpture Gallery" is a superb example of the work in which he specialized: historic and anecdotal scenes set in classical antiquity or medieval Europe. The precision of his technique, coupled with considerable archaeological research and a vivid imagination, imbues his painting with a realistic appearance that appealed to the Victorian audience.
This painting, which formerly belonged to railroad magnate William Vanderbilt, represents a sculpture gallery in Rome at the time of Emperor Augustus. Roman connoisseurs admire an elaborate bronze basin. Like a Victorian sculptor's studio, the "classical" studio is filled with art-- works that would be familiar to the 19th-century collecting audience either through personal travel or reproductions. On the left, for example, is the "Infant Hercules Struggling with a Snake," from the Capodimonti Museum in Naples; on the right, the elaborate carved table from the Casa Rafi at Pompeii and the statue of Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, from the Capitoline museum in Rome. The Roman visitors are modelled on members of Alma-Tadema's family, including the artist himself, in profile at the far left.
[Gallery label text, 1999]