The Tepidarium

LL 3130


Alma-Tadema made his reputation in England with paintings showing the everyday life of ancient Roman society with archaeological precision. A tepidarium was a warm Roman bath, and the woman in the painting holds a strigel which was used for scraping the skin after it was soaped and oiled. This work show enormous technical skill in rendering surfaces, perhaps reflecting Alma-Tadema's Dutch origins. He conveys not only the colour and shape but also the texture, feel, hardness - or softness - of the marble, the rug and the girl's body. Alma-Tadema's use of classical subject matter saved him from accusations of indecency. Female nude subjects were considered distasteful in Victorian Britain and so artists often included a mythological pretext to legitimise their representation. Alma-Tadema knew the power of eroticised art and its commercial potential, and this Roman bathhouse was simply intended to arouse male admiration. The scale of this painting also indicates that it was intended for a gentleman’s smoking-room or library. It is surprising that A & F Pears could have considered using the picture as a soap advertisement.