In Between Hope and Fear, artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema once again painted a scene that represents a vignette of life in ancient Greece. And while the image is based on a Nineteenth century interpretation of Greek art and culture, it is interesting to note that Victorian audiences and art critics alike tended to view this work based mainly their rather conservative contemporary perspective. With this in mind, let’s explore the painting in more depth.
Between Hope and Fear depicted a touching image of family for many critics of the time. They saw the young woman in the foreground as a modest daughter, demurely requesting her father’s permission to marry. The young woman grasps a bouquet of flowers as she shyly lowers her head, and this posture of innocence must have struck some viewers as a charming gesture meant to suggest submission. The father, here portrayed as a bearded older man, reclines on a couch with his drinking cup slightly raised. He is ostensibly considering his daughter’s request.
While this interpretation is a telling reflection of the strict morality of the Victorian era, it is also likely that it is a bit too simplistic. It seems some critics failed to look too closely at the rich Pompeian red mural in the background of the painting (see the detail above). If you look closely, you may notice that the figures on this mural are arranged in a splendid procession that has distinctly Dionysian overtones.
Indeed, the mural, with its overt references to the pleasures of the Greek god Dionysos, suggests the idea that the man is in fact instead enjoying a symposium - which, incidentally, is essentially an ancient Greek drinking party. According to this reading, the shy young woman would most definitely not be his daughter, but instead a type of performer who entertained male audiences at symposia.
As I previously mentioned, the man is holding a kylix, or drinking cup, which reinforces the idea of a symposium.