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A moment from contemporary Victorian life is shown here taking place in ancient Greece or Rome. A man brings an engagement ring to his girlfriend in the hope that she will become his fiancée. Her eager attitude shows that the result of his proposal is ‘a foregone conclusion’. Although Alma-Tadema took great care in the authenticity of his classical settings, the modern subject would have made the painting accessible to a nineteenth-century audience. The painting belonged to Sir Henry Tate’s second wife, Amy Hislop. They were married the year it was painted and he may have given it to her as an engagement present.

September 2004