In the striking painting called Between Hope and Fear, artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema has depicted a scene that evokes life in ancient Greece. And while the image is based on a Nineteenth century interpretation of Greek art and culture, it is interesting to note that Victorian audiences and art critics alike tended to interpret this work based mainly their conservative contemporary perspective.
For many critics, Between Hope and Fear represented a touching image of family. They saw the young woman in the foreground as a modest daughter, demurely requesting her father's permission to wed. The young woman holds a bouquet of flowers and shyly lowers her head, and this posture of innocence must have struck some viewers as an ideal attitude to suggest submission. The father, here portrayed as a bearded older man, reclines on a couch with his drinking cup, and he is ostensibly considering his daughter's request.
While this interpretation accords well with the strict morality of the Victorian era, it is also likely that it is a bit too simplistic. For critics failed to look too closely at the rich Pompeian red mural in the background. On this mural, Greek figures are arranged in a splendid procession that has distinctly Dionysian overtones. This mural, with its suggestion of the pleasures of the Greek god Dionysos, points to the idea that the man is in fact instead enjoying a symposium (which is essentially an ancient Greek drinking party). Therefore, the young woman would most definitely not be his daughter, but rather a performer who entertained male audiences at symposia.
More information about the role that Dionysos played in mythology can be found at Mythography.
Rosemary Barrow is the author of this remarkable book about Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Barrow offers intriguing insights into the artist's works, and also proposes ideas that lead to a critical reevaluation of Alma-Tadema's paintings. Graced with a generous number of stunning color images, this highly recommended book is certain to delight - and enlighten - fans of Victorian art.
Christopher Wood's elegant and informative book features a comprehensive "who's who" of Victorian artists, from Pre-Raphaelite masters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, to what Wood terms the Olympian Dreamers - including Lawrence Alma-Tadema, G.F. Watts, and Albert Moore.