Alma-Tadema's Cinematic Legacy

A Pyrrhic Dance, 1869

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Pyrrhic Dance, 1869 Guidhall Art Gallery, City of London



From shortly after his death, early filmmakers turned to Alma-Tadema’s paintings as they looked for inspiration for their own recreations of life in antiquity.  The appeal of his work was not just its authentic feel derived from objects, costume and architecture, but the spatial devises that he had evolved. Tadema’s dramatic framings of his subjects, his changes in scale, his use of curtains to divide and reveal space and his incorporation of different floor levels within a single composition were all picked up and translated into early film.


The director Cecil B. DeMille was a devotee of Alma-Tadema’s work, apparently showing prints of Alma-Tadema’s pictures to his team while they were preparing to film The Ten Commandments.  More recently, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator derives many details from Alma-Tadema’s works. Production designer Arthur Max studied Alma-Tadema’s paintings for their columns, floor mosaics and props. Costume designer Janty Yates also studied his paintings while working on the film. Alma-Tadema’s pastel colours and transparent, layered and sometimes lightly embroidered silks were a direct source of inspiration for Yates.


Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity (7 July - 29 October) at Leighton House Museum includes an audio-visual presentation, located in Leighton's winter studio, that presents connections between Alma-Tadema’s pictures and cinematic representations of ancient Greece and Rome.


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