April 14, 2022
Fun Fact: Roman emperor Heliogabalus (203 – 222 AD) once dropped so many flower petals on his dinner guests that they drowned.
While we slowly get back to socialising, one might feel a twinge of anxiety at the idea of hosting a get-together. But don’t worry, it will never go as poorly as this one did:
It was such a disastrous event that someone commissioned a painting about it 1,600 years later. The Roses of Heliogabalus was painted in 1888 by Anglo-Dutch artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and depicted the young emperor hosting a banquet. The original account of the (likely exaggerated) story from Historia Augusta described a false ceiling that fell away to release a fluttering and then a torrent of violet petals. Alma-Tadema, apparently a student of floriography, decided that roses would be more appropriate. Violets represent faithfulness and modesty according to the Victorian ‘language’… none of that here.
Since roses were out of season at the time and every petal needed to be perfect, fresh roses were shipped in weekly from the south of France during the four months it took to complete the painting. A simpler solution might have been to wait until spring, but who am I to judge. Artists can be a prickly bunch.