The Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema Collection
The Univerity of Birmingham Library
Lawrence Alma-Tadema was born in Friesland, The Netherlands, in 1836. He trained in Antwerp with Baron Henri Ley (1815-1869), a painter of 16th century Flemish historical subjects, and with Louis de Taeye (1822-1890) a painter and professor of archaeology. During his honeymoon in 1863, Alma-Tadema visited Italy. He was very impressed by the archaeological remains he saw in Florence, Rome, Naples and Pompeii and his love for Roman antiquity was born. He began to acquire a reputation, particularly in England, as a painter of historical subjects. He therefore decided to move to London in 1870, and his popularity continued to grow. In 1876 he became a member of the Royal Academy. Throughout the remainder of his life he enjoyed great fame and fortune and was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1899. When he died in 1912 he was accorded the rare privilege of being buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.
Alma-Tadema used many elements of Roman art and architecture in his paintings. He strove for historical authenticity in every small detail and in order to achieve this he made use of photographs. He had in fact collected photographs since his journey through Italy in 1863, such photographs being at the time a popular medium for archaeological documentation as well as for "Grand Tour" souvenirs. Alma-Tadema bought hundreds of photographs during his many journeys, of which many, but by no means all, are of Italian subjects.
He stored these photographs, glued on cardboard mounts, in portfolios. These are sorted according to subject: Roman aqueducts, triumphal arches, Egyptian architecture, flowers and animals, etc. Details from the photographs are often to be recognized in his paintings. The names of the photographers are usually unknown because Alma-Tadema did not write their names on the mounts: he regarded the subject matter as important, not the photographs' value to art history. However, recent studies have established that among the photographers represented are such famous names as Sommer, Tuminello, Simelli, Plüschow, Salzman, Du Camp, Bonfils and Beato.
The original 164 portfolios and 6 albums, containing some 5,300 photographs, together with some original drawings, tracings and prints, were donated in 1915 to the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1947 they were transferred to Birmingham University Library.
In addition to the visual material, the Alma-Tadema Collection of Birmingham University Library contains letters from Lawrence Alma-Tadema (and some written by his wife Laura and daughter Anna) to friends and patrons. Letters to his friend the singer and composer Sir George Henschel (1850-1934) form a large part of the collection.
The printed guide, accompanying the microfiches, is based on the 1915 inventory of the photographs, drawings, prints and tracings made for the Victoria and Albert Museum by E. Onslow Ford, and on the inventory of correspondence made by the University of Birmingham Library. Cross-reference of each item with its exact location on the microfiches makes the collection readily accessible.