The Courtship of Zal and Rudabeh, (1882) by Sir Laurence Alma Tadema. Graphite, paper, 125 x 183 mm (5 x 7 3/16 inches). Signed lower centre: "LAlma Tadema." Inscribed lower right: "And they gazed upon each other & knew / that they excelled in beauty and the hours / slipped by in sweet talk, while love fanned in their hearts." Provenance: bought as Lot no. 163 at Sotheby's Milan, 7th June 2006.

Commentary by Paul Crowther

When acquired at auction, the picture was entitled Il Corteggiamento, and authenticated as an Alma-Tadema by Vern Swanson's short catalogue note. In that note Dr Swanson observes that "The precision in the description of the garments, the jewellery, the furniture, is typical of the great knowledge on the part of the artist of the classical oriental world; the softness of the clothes and the minuteness of the details, from the ornaments of the textiles to the decorations on the walls, definitely reveal the superb naturalist manner. This is a small, precious composition, especially if we consider that the drawings by this artist are very rare" [translation by Mario Inglese].

The drawing is an original design for an etching by Alma-Tadema himself. It illustrates the Zal and Rudabeh courtship scene in Helen Zimmern's translation of Firdusi's medieval Persian text The Epic of the King. The book was published in 1883 by T. Fisher Unwin of London. The etching is opposite p. 49. (The other etching is opposite p. 45.) In her Introduction to the book, Zimmern notes that "First and foremost my warmest thanks are due to Mr Alma-Tadema, R.A., for the value he has imparted to my book by his etchings, and for the kind encouragement and sympathy he has given to me from the first planning of the work."

A separate print taken from this etching is held under the title A man and woman conversing in an Assyrian palace at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. (The Fitzwilliam also holds a print of the other etching from The Epic of the King.) During his lifetime, Alma-Tadema's paintings were reproduced as etchings by other artists in massive numbers. However, his own original work as an etcher appears not to have been studied in the existing literature. The present work is Alma-Tadema's only known design for an etching, but other such designs by him very likely exist. For example, there is a group of 4 other original Alma-Tadema etchings in fellow artist William Bell Scott's Poems. Ballads, Studies from Nature, Sonnets etc., Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1875. Dr Swanson's complete catalogue of Alma-Tadema's works (in preparation) lists these, and an original Alma-Tadema etching that forms the frontispiece to Sir Edmund W. Gosse's Studies in the Literature of Northern Europe, C. Kegan Paul, London, 1879, and also seven other etchings or lithographs in various works.

You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art and and the National Gallery of Slovenia and the Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway (2) and link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one


Crowther, Paul. Awakening Beauty: The Crowther-Oblak Collection of Victorian Art. Exhibition catalogue. Ljubljana: National Gallery of Slovenia; Galway: Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, 2014. No. 1.

Last modified 28 October 2006