I’ve long admired the paintings of Pre-Raphaelite Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. His works are known for their highly idealized views of the Roman Empire, usually depicting his subjects lounging within marble villas, temple interiors, and other luxurious settings. Possessing an ambiance which could be described as serene, obviously these paintings don’t represent the brutality of the Empire, but that was hardly the artist’s intended purpose. If anything these works reflect the 19th century’s renewed interest in classical antiquity, often under the banner of a lively, decadent party.
Flipping through Alma-Tadema’s catalogue of works, paintings like ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’ and ‘The Finding Of Moses’ stand out as grand, elaborate spectacles, however I’m more drawn to intimate pieces such as his ‘A Silent Greeting.’ The woman is fast asleep in what appears to be a public, indoor setting. Laying back on a pair of pillows and with a cushion at her feet, she seems quite comfortable. A bouquet of flowers is found in her lap, presumably delivered by the young soldier who seems to be pulling away. For me the most intriguing piece of body language is his right foot, delicately arched as he tries to sneak off without waking her.
I find his leaving the bouquet to be a very endearing, whether this man is her lover or a complete stranger. Since our title specifies “greeting,” I would assume he is the latter. Oh, I’m sure contemporary viewers would view this as an invasion of her personal space, but within the context of Alma-Tadema’s painting it appears nothing more than a tender, romantic gesture. Unlike Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph ‘V-J Day in Times Square,’ which some have scrutinized as celebrating a public sexual assault, our solider in ‘Greeting’ is merely leaving a token of affection.
But who knows, this Roman dude could totally be creepy stalker, harassing women with unwanted bouquets.
Lastly, I’m intrigued at the notion of one’s admirer approaching them during sleep, as if they were appearing to them in a dream. I’d like to imagine that the soldier’s gesture is interacting with the woman on some unconscious level. It adds another charming dimension to this lovely painting.