A Coign of Vantage

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A Coign of Vantage, 1895.

A Coign of Vantage is an oil painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema in the Romanticism style, finished in 1895. In the painting, well-dressed women stand on a high marble overlook peering down at the Bay of Naples as Roman galleys return from their voyage. A weathered bronze wild cat is adorned with flowers, like the women, as a sign of happiness for the men's return.


I first saw this painting as a teen because my mother hung it up in our bathroom, and since then, I've always appreciated it. Alma-Tadema has put an exquisite level of detail into the women's gowns and their flowers. The blue oxidization on the bronze cat, and how it has weathered down the marble, is very life-like. There are two things I don't care for in the painting. The first is how the Roman galley doesn't seamlessly fit into the painting, it seems almost tacked-on. The second is that the painting serves as a reminder that women in the ancient world were delegated to a life of the mundane. When the men go out on an adventure, the women remain and care for the home. While I don't mind women if they choose to do this, until very recently, this was not only expected, but enforced in most cultures.