The Roses of Heliogabalus

Private Collection

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Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1888

genre painting

The Roses of Heliogabalus is one of Alma-Tadema’s most famous paintings. It depicts the Roman Emperor Egabalus (Heliogabalus), a debauched psychotic. In this episode, he is attempting to smother his unsuspecting audience with rose petals, which have been let loose from false ceiling panels. Alma-Tadema, being a meticulous perfectionist, wanted each petal to be as perfectly realistic as possible, and had shipments of rose petals sent to him from the Riviera over the winter of 1887-1888, so he would have fresh examples. This was a common practice by Alma-Tadema, who often ordered flowers from all over Europe and sometimes Africa, as examples for his paintings, rushing to complete the work before the flowers died.

image of The Roses of Heliogabalus