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The ‘silent greeting’ of the title is the gift of flowers that the young Roman soldier leaves for the sleeping woman. The subject was inspired by The Visit, a poem by the German poet and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Alma-Tadema took great pains over the accuracy of his depictions of the ancient world, carefully researching the architecture and interior details. However, the sentimental subject and the contemporary look of the figures – memorably described as Victorians in togas’ – gives the painting the air of a modern costume drama.

September 2004