The Roses of Heliogabalus 1888
by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
After the death of Emperor Heliogabalus, a propaganda campaign was started. One of the stories that was circulated became the inspiration for this painting. It was said that he had suffocated his guests to death, with petals.
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema had rose petals delivered to his art studio over the winter months. He wanted to capture every petal. Flowers are a very predominant feature in his work. The story gave him the freedom to create an image that allows the flowers to take center stage. He paints realistic images in keeping with the art scene of the time. If the story was his main focus, there would be horror on the faces of those present. The story is simply a tool to justify an image he chooses to create. He also created beautiful romantic images. It raises questions in my mind, if he was alive now, would his romantic images include whirling petals to convey the feeling of love? Is that what is really happening in this painting? The story does not mention solely roses. He has chosen a flower which has an historical and cultural link to romantic love. The story allows a 'realistic' image to be created where a huge number of petals float through the air and surround the figures.