Catullus at Lesbia's

Catullus at Lesbia's by Sir Laurence Alma Tadema OM RA, 1836-1912. 1865. Oil on panel 15 5/8 x 21 1/2 inches. Formerly Allen Funt Collection. Photo: Sotheby's Belgravia.

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R.J. Barrow, who describes Catullus at Lesbia's as "the most striking of his first Pompeian pictures," points out that "French paintings such as Thomas Couture's Horace and Lydia (1843) and Charles-François Jalabert's Virgil, Horace and Varius at the House of Maecenas (1844-6), set the example" for what he terms "biographical studies of the Latin poets," and the poet's

personal life, particularly the intriguing question of the identity of his lover, Lesbia, was a topic of intense interest among mid-nineteenth-century scholars. In 1862, a German scholar, Ludwig Schwabe, proposed a Catullan biography which he assumed Lesbia to be Clodia Metelli, the sister of the tribune, Publius Clodius and wife the nobleman, Q. Metellus Celer. . . . Cicero, describes her behaviour as a catalogue of indulgences: "debaauchery, amours, misconduct, trips to Baiae, beach-parties. feasts, revels, concerts, musical parties, pleasure boats." [30]

In contrast to Cicero's view of Cicero's supposed beloved, Alma-Tadema depicts her as "culture, refined, and liberated" (30). The painter based some of the furnishings upon items excavated at Pompeii.


Barrow, R. J. Lawrence Alma-Tadema. London: Phaidon, 2001.

Wood, Christopher. Olympian Dreamers: Victorian Classical Painters. London: Constable, 1983. 106-30.

Last modified 5 November 2004