As one of the most famous women in history, Cleopatra VII was famed as the last Pharaoh of Egypt and lover of Marc Antony. One of the greatest love sagas in
history, William Shakespeare further popularized her story in his tragic play, Antony and Cleopatra
. Romantic artist's throughout the centuries, including Alma Tadema
and Reginald Arthur
Cleopatra's legacy, dramatizing various scenes of her heroic life and tragic death. In most depictions, Cleopatra is portrayed as a great beauty with aesthetic and sexual appeal, allowing to her successive
conquests of powerful men. As Egypt's 'Romeo and Juliet,' naturally I was drawn to Cleopatra's woeful tale as a painting subject. Here is her story:
Although it went against tradition, Cleopatra proclaimed herself sole ruler of Egypt in 51BC. Shortly afterward, a conflict with Roman troops forced Cleopatra to flee into exile. When Rome's civil war gave
temporary triumph to Julius Caesar, he seized the Egyptian capital. In effort to reclaim her throne, Cleopatra began an affair with Caesar to gain his support of her entitlement as Pharaoh. Cleopatra gave
birth to their son, Ptolemy Caesar, who became her co-ruler after the assassination of Julius Caesar.
Cleopatra soon charmed Mark Antony, one of the triumvirs who ruled Rome following Caesar's death, becoming his mistress and bearing him three children. Although Antony had a wife in Rome, he married
Cleopatra according to Egyptian rite. Cleopatra's self-proclaimed power grew immensely following this union, and her enemies in Rome feared that she was planning to array all the East against Rome,
establish herself as empress of the world, and inaugurate a new universal kingdom. This fear was not without cause, as Cleopatra, now titled the "Queen of Kings" and self-proclaimed as the reincarnation of
the goddess Isis, sailed with her own fleet during battles of conquest, through which Antony followed her.
In 30BC, Marc Antony's armies deserted him and he was taken by Roman forces, while Cleopatra was held captive in her mausoleum by the new Roman ruler, Octavius. Antony was given false information that
Cleopatra had been killed, and he fell upon his own sword in grief. Heartbroken and too prideful to bear the shame of being paraded through Rome as a conquest, Cleopatra ordered her handmaidens to smuggle
in a poisonous snake, enticing it to bite her and following Antony into death.
The title of this painting is taken from Act IV of Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra,' a monologue spoken by
Antony as he foresees his defeat and death. I chose to depict a scene of the Egyptian queen not necessarily at the time of her death, but rather in a state of contemplation of her doomed love affair, her
kingdom and title seized by her enemies, and the peaceful immortality of the venomous asp. The hieroglyphics on the alcove wall were referenced from historical sources, with artistic liberations, as were
the patterns on columns and floor to give a fairly authentic portrayal of Egyptian and Greek decor. By this time, Egypt was heavily influenced by Greece, Cleopatra being of Greek decent herself, so I chose
to depict her in the historically accurate draped Greek fashion. The tiger pelt is often depicted in images of Cleopatra, and thus included in my own, as it is indicative of an Egyptian monarch. As there
is controversy as to which type of snake was credited to her suicide, and even whether it was in fact a snake at all, I chose to illustrate a generic asp, with heightened patterning to attract the viewer's