Catalog of the Fine Arts Collection
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Pierre Olivier Joseph Coomans (1816-1889), Belgian
The nineteenth century was an age of historic revivals. After a visit to the archaeological sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy in 1857, the Belgian academic painter Pierre Olivier Joseph Coomans joined the ranks of artists inspired by the cities' ancient mystery and grandeur. His inspiration for this painting was, in fact, a figure from classical Greek history, Aspasia, the brilliant and reportedly beautiful mistress of the ancient Athenian statesman Pericles. Also a friend of the philosopher Socrates, Aspasia was credited with much of Pericles' success as an orator and blamed for his perceived missteps in matters of state, particularly for starting the Peloponnesian War with neighboring Sparta in 431 B.C.E. The rich colors and sumptuous fabrics of Coomans' scene are illustrative of the exotic allure that ancient civilization held for artists of the nineteenth century.