This is the earliest self-portrait of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, from 1852, when he was a sixteen years old boy in Friesian Dronrijp named Lourens Tadema. The year before he had suffered a physical and mental breakdown. Diagnosed as consumptive, with only a short time to live, the boy, who should have become a lawyer, was allowed to spend his remaining days at his leisure, drawing and painting. But he regained his health, and entered The Royal Academy of Antwerp in 1852.

While this seems to be the oldest of his paintings accessible on the web, it was not his first. His earliest known oil painting, and his first commission, was a joint portrait of the three children of Watse and Henrietta Hamstra in 1849. It was done in secret as it was intended as a present for their parents. That Watse Hamstra was President of the Society for the Promotion of Painting and Drawing in Leeuwarden would prove helpful for the young artist.

In 1872 Alma-Tadema organized his paintings into an identification system by including an opus number under his signature and assigning his earlier pictures numbers as well. The painting that got numbered opus I was a portrait of his sister Artje, which he had sent to an art exhibition in Leeuwarden in 1851, where much to his delight it was accepted and hung. His last painting, Preparation in the Coliseum, finished two months before his death, got numbered opus CCCCVIII. Quite a life.

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