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Posted on September 9th, 2012, by

Rome was traditionally a subject of a profound interest of many artists, who attempted to understand the ancient civilization and who often admired the civilization which produced a huge impact on the development of the western civilization and the world at large. In this respect, it is possible to refer to “The Women of Amphissa”¯ by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the work of the Victorian artist, which depicts an ancient Roman festival. This painting has apparently a profound symbolic meaning and, at the same time, it has a great artistic value due to its intentionally classical style and depiction of visual images.

First of all, it is necessary to dwell the historical context, which the artist attempted to convey through his painting. In fact, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema refers to the specific ancient Roman festival in the honor of Roman God Bachus, which took place regularly and constituted an essential part of the life of ancient Romans. The artist focuses his attention on the festival known to modern scientists as the Oreibasia, whose name means “mountain running”¯, took place during the winter months at Delphi. Official delegations from many cities including Athens, which at the epoch was a part of the Roman Empire, came to this festival. Plutarch depicts the rescue of a group of Thyiads who unwittingly wandered into the city of Amphissa in Phocis during the time of war, and exhausted by their frenzy, fell asleep in the marketplace. The women of Amphissa, fearing that harm would come to them, stood watch silently around them until they revived and could be given a hot dinner and safe conduct to the border.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema uses mainly light colors to depict the women, buildings and streets, while dark colors are used simply to distinguish some women standing on the background. In this respect, it is possible to presuppose that the artist intentionally distinguishes some women in the crowd from Thyiads by means of the color. In fact, the women in dark clothes standing on the background emphasize their fear and certain inferiority because gray and black evokes associations with ordinary character of women who wear such clothes. In contrast, Thyiads wear white clothes that apparently symbolizes their brevity since they are willing to emphasize their natural beauty by means of clothes. In addition, the posture of women also reveals a huge gap between the women of Amphissa and the Thyiads. The latter are lying relaxed, having a sleep and rest, while the women of Amphissa stand at a distance, waiting until the Thyiads wake up. The posture of the women of Amphissa radiates certain apprehension, if not to say fear, while the posture of the Thyaids shows their self-assurance and calmness.

In such a way, the artist does not only depicts women living in the Roman Empire, but he also raises the theme of the position of women in ancient Roman society. In fact, the artist shows that ordinary women in ancient Rome apparently played a secondary role in the ancient Roman society. They are apparently afraid and attempt to become invisible, especially during the war, which took place at the epoch depicted by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. In such a context, the Thyiads symbolize an exceptional trend in the ancient Roman society, which though proves that some women could be equal and fearless as men did.

Thus, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema uncovers the classical epoch of ancient Rome and attempts to show to the Victorian audience that the role of women can be different and Victorian women could follow the example of Thyiads.

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