Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (British, 1836—1912) spent a little over half his life in England, but was actually born Laurens Tadema in the Netherlands. He eventually changed his name to the more English-sounding “Lawrence” and adopted the additional name “Alma” from his godfather in order to appear in exhibition catalogues at the beginning under “A.”
Although intended for the law, Alma-Tadema survived a severe bout of ill health at age 15 and decided to become an artist instead. He enrolled at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, where he studied history and costume, earning numerous awards. His marriage and subsequent honeymoon trip to Italy in 1863 exposed him for the first time to the ancient Roman artworks that fired his imagination and became the basis for his most celebrated, highly-detailed historical scenes. The couple returned to France and Belgium for a short time, but his wife’s death in 1869 sent Alma-Tadema to England in search of treatments. There he fell in love for the second time, and eventually immigrated permanently to England. His artistic success led him to a knighthood in 1899. In his later years he concentrated on portraiture as well as theater productions, costuming, and furniture design utilizing the ancient motifs of Rome and Egypt, which in turn inspired the “swords and sandals” historical epics of early Hollywood.