Roman paintings of Cleopatra VII of Egypt

Jan 2017
132
Virginia, USA
#1

PLEASE LIKE THE VIDEO AND SUBSCRIBE! :D :cool: Or not. Whatever floats your boat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:..._most_likely_a_depiction_of_Cleopatra_VII.jpg


^ An ancient Roman wall painting in Room 71 of the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, Italy, showing Venus with a cupid's arms wrapped around her. It is most likely a depiction of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt as Venus Genetrix, with her son Caesarion as a cupid. The painting was made circa 46 BC, around the time that Julius Caesar erected her statue in the Temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Caesar, Rome. The owner of the house at Pompeii walled off the room with the painting in or around 30 BC, no doubt because images of Caesarion were proscribed by Octavian, who had him killed in Egypt and then knocked down any statue of Mark Antony he could find, sparing those of Cleopatra only because her colleague paid Octavian bribe money not to do so! That and Caesar's patronage of certain statues spared them the same fate by hammer and chisel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:...y_Cleopatra_VII_of_Egypt_consuming_poison.jpg


^ A Roman wall painting from the House of Giuseppe II (Casa di Giuseppe II), Pompeii, Italy; it is dated to the first quarter of the 1st century AD. It was originally thought to depict Sophonisba, the noble Carthaginian woman loved by the Numidian King Massanissa, who sent her poison during the Second Punic War so that she could commit suicide rather than allowing the Romans to capture her. However, more recent analysis strongly identifies the reclining woman wearing the royal diadem as Cleopatra VII of Egypt, consuming poison as her son Caesarion, also wearing a royal diadem, stands behind her.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Retrato_femenino_(26771127162).jpg


^ A posthumous painted portrait of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt, from Roman Herculaneum, made sometime between 30 BC, i.e. Cleopatra's death, and 79 AD, i.e. the destruction of Herculaneum by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius; it is located in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

For the paintings from Pompeii, see the following sources:

*Source: Duane W. Roller, Cleopatra: a biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-536553-5, pp. 175, 178-179.
*Walker, Susan. "Cleopatra in Pompei?" in Papers of the British School at Rome, 76 (2008), pp. 35-46 and 345-8. (Viewable online courtesy the Cambridge University Press).

For the painting from Herculaneum, see:

* Fletcher, Joann. (2008). Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend. New York: Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-058558-7. Plates between pp. 246-247; see also p. 87 for further description.

These Roman paintings of Cleopatra capture Cleopatra at different stages in her life, but they all share similar qualities and the standard imagery of royal iconography found in her coinage. This includes the Hellenistic-Greek royal diadem worn over her head, usually a white-cloth headband like the one seen in her Herculaneum portrait and the death portrait from Pompeii, but also a golden variety with a red jewel at the center, as seen in the Pompeii painting from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus.

In 1933, Ludwig Curtius made the astute observation that a damage mark on the left cheek of the Vatican Cleopatra bust was most likely a hand of a cupid (i.e. Caesarion) that had been torn off, and that the lump on the top of her diadem was most likely a jewel, not an uraeus-type Egyptian serpent like Diana Kleiner (2005) would later posit. Susan Walker (2008) agrees with Curtius' assessment, as does Roller (2010), who strongly connects the painting from Pompeii to that of the now lost statue of Cleopatra in the Forum of Caesar that stood until the 3rd century AD at least (most likely into the 4th century AD when it could have been knocked down by zealous Christians).

Other standard features found in Cleopatra's coinage and these paintings include the melon-style braided hairdo revived by Cleopatra after it had fallen into disuse from the 3rd century BC, when it was worn by Ptolemaic queens Arsinoe II and Berenice II. The interesting thing about the painting from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus is that Cleopatra wears a thin translucent veil over her melon-style hairdo. The veil did not appear in her coinage portraits but it was worn by earlier Ptolemaic queens with this hairstyle, namely Arsinoe II and Berenice II. Roman women even copied this hairstyle in Italy, as it became fashionable when Cleopatra visited Rome in 46 and 44 BC. The hairstyle eventually fell out of favor once Octavian declared war on Cleopatra and became the first emperor of Rome, Augustus, in 27 BC. Nevertheless, the bust in the British Museum that is allegedly of Cleopatra was most likely just a Roman woman copying her hairstyle!

Another important feature of the paintings that is seen in sculptures and raised-relief coinage portraits of Cleopatra is her obvious and prominent aquiline nose. It's almost a hook nose in some coin portraits of her, although this was clearly an exaggeration to let her subjects know without equivocation that it was her. Think of it like a Sunday newspaper comic of a US president, showing Barack Obama with huge ears and a thin face or Donald Trump with a puffy face and giant, flat hairdo. Lol. :lol:

So, what do you guys think! Pretty neat, huh? :D :zany:

You can learn more about the ancient artworks depicting Cleopatra over at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra

Compare the paintings with the ancient Roman busts of Cleopatra:

Berlin Cleopatra, Altes Museum, Antikesammlung Berlin:


Vatican Cleopatra, Vatican Museums:


Statue of Cleopatra found near the Tomba di Nerone along the Via Cassia in Rome, now in the Vatican Museums:


The Esquiline Venus, a 1st-century AD Roman copy of a 1st-century BC Greek original, Capitoline Museums:


^ A small note: the Capitoline Venus is disputed by some scholars and accepted by others. It is a contentious academic debate whether it depicts Cleopatra or not. Arguments in favor include the obvious: her royal diadem, melon-style hairdo, and the uraeus Egyptian cobra wrapped around the vase at the base of the sculpture suggesting Cleopatra's suicide. The statue is one of Venus emerging from the water of a bath. It's perhaps important to note that the ancient historian Plutarch related how Cleopatra took a ritual bath and ate a fine meal with figs before committing suicide. Some scholars argue, however, that Romans and Greeks would never depict a living queen as a naked goddess, but she was depicted as such in contemporary Egyptian art, as the scantily-clad Isis in the basalt statue of the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia. These same scholars also argue that her facial features don't exactly match her Berlin bust or coinage, but then again this is supposed to be her as the goddess Venus, so perhaps her facial features were deliberately idealized, softened, and made prettier.
 
Last edited:
Jan 2017
132
Virginia, USA
#2

PLEASE LIKE THE VIDEO AND SUBSCRIBE! :D :cool: Or not. Whatever floats your boat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:..._most_likely_a_depiction_of_Cleopatra_VII.jpg


^ An ancient Roman wall painting in Room 71 of the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, Italy, showing Venus with a cupid's arms wrapped around her. It is most likely a depiction of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt as Venus Genetrix, with her son Caesarion as a cupid. The painting was made circa 46 BC, around the time that Julius Caesar erected her statue in the Temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Caesar, Rome. The owner of the house at Pompeii walled off the room with the painting in or around 30 BC, no doubt because images of Caesarion were proscribed by Octavian, who had him killed in Egypt and then knocked down any statue of Mark Antony he could find, sparing those of Cleopatra only because her colleague paid Octavian bribe money not to do so! That and Caesar's patronage of certain statues spared them the same fate by hammer and chisel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:...y_Cleopatra_VII_of_Egypt_consuming_poison.jpg


^ A Roman wall painting from the House of Giuseppe II (Casa di Giuseppe II), Pompeii, Italy; it is dated to the first quarter of the 1st century AD. It was originally thought to depict Sophonisba, the noble Carthaginian woman loved by the Numidian King Massanissa, who sent her poison during the Second Punic War so that she could commit suicide rather than allowing the Romans to capture her. However, more recent analysis strongly identifies the reclining woman wearing the royal diadem as Cleopatra VII of Egypt, consuming poison as her son Caesarion, also wearing a royal diadem, stands behind her.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Retrato_femenino_(26771127162).jpg


^ A posthumous painted portrait of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt, from Roman Herculaneum, made sometime between 30 BC, i.e. Cleopatra's death, and 79 AD, i.e. the destruction of Herculaneum by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius; it is located in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

For the paintings from Pompeii, see the following sources:

*Source: Duane W. Roller, Cleopatra: a biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-536553-5, pp. 175, 178-179.
*Walker, Susan. "Cleopatra in Pompei?" in Papers of the British School at Rome, 76 (2008), pp. 35-46 and 345-8. (Viewable online courtesy the Cambridge University Press).

For the painting from Herculaneum, see:

* Fletcher, Joann. (2008). Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend. New York: Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-058558-7. Plates between pp. 246-247; see also p. 87 for further description.

These Roman paintings of Cleopatra capture Cleopatra at different stages in her life, but they all share similar qualities and the standard imagery of royal iconography found in her coinage. This includes the Hellenistic-Greek royal diadem worn over her head, usually a white-cloth headband like the one seen in her Herculaneum portrait and the death portrait from Pompeii, but also a golden variety with a red jewel at the center, as seen in the Pompeii painting from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus.

In 1933, Ludwig Curtius made the astute observation that a damage mark on the left cheek of the Vatican Cleopatra bust was most likely a hand of a cupid (i.e. Caesarion) that had been torn off, and that the lump on the top of her diadem was most likely a jewel, not an uraeus-type Egyptian serpent like Diana Kleiner (2005) would later posit. Susan Walker (2008) agrees with Curtius' assessment, as does Roller (2010), who strongly connects the painting from Pompeii to that of the now lost statue of Cleopatra in the Forum of Caesar that stood until the 3rd century AD at least (most likely into the 4th century AD when it could have been knocked down by zealous Christians).

Other standard features found in Cleopatra's coinage and these paintings include the melon-style braided hairdo revived by Cleopatra after it had fallen into disuse from the 3rd century BC, when it was worn by Ptolemaic queens Arsinoe II and Berenice II. The interesting thing about the painting from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus is that Cleopatra wears a thin translucent veil over her melon-style hairdo. The veil did not appear in her coinage portraits but it was worn by earlier Ptolemaic queens with this hairstyle, namely Arsinoe II and Berenice II. Roman women even copied this hairstyle in Italy, as it became fashionable when Cleopatra visited Rome in 46 and 44 BC. The hairstyle eventually fell out of favor once Octavian declared war on Cleopatra and became the first emperor of Rome, Augustus, in 27 BC. Nevertheless, the bust in the British Museum that is allegedly of Cleopatra was most likely just a Roman woman copying her hairstyle!

Another important feature of the paintings that is seen in sculptures and raised-relief coinage portraits of Cleopatra is her obvious and prominent aquiline nose. It's almost a hook nose in some coin portraits of her, although this was clearly an exaggeration to let her subjects know without equivocation that it was her. Think of it like a Sunday newspaper comic of a US president, showing Barack Obama with huge ears and a thin face or Donald Trump with a puffy face and giant, flat hairdo. Lol. :lol:

So, what do you guys think! Pretty neat, huh? :D :zany:

You can learn more about the ancient artworks depicting Cleopatra over at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra

Compare the paintings with the ancient Roman busts of Cleopatra:

Berlin Cleopatra, Altes Museum, Antikesammlung Berlin:


Vatican Cleopatra, Vatican Museums:


Statue of Cleopatra found near the Tomba di Nerone along the Via Cassia in Rome, now in the Vatican Museums:


The Esquiline Venus, a 1st-century AD Roman copy of a 1st-century BC Greek original, Capitoline Museums:


^ A small note: the Capitoline Venus is disputed by some scholars and accepted by others. It is a contentious academic debate whether it depicts Cleopatra or not. Arguments in favor include the obvious: her royal diadem, melon-style hairdo, and the uraeus Egyptian cobra wrapped around the vase at the base of the sculpture suggesting Cleopatra's suicide. The statue is one of Venus emerging from the water of a bath. It's perhaps important to note that the ancient historian Plutarch related how Cleopatra took a ritual bath and ate a fine meal with figs before committing suicide. Some scholars argue, however, that Romans and Greeks would never depict a living queen as a naked goddess, but she was depicted as such in contemporary Egyptian art, as the scantily-clad Isis in the basalt statue of the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia. These same scholars also argue that her facial features don't exactly match her Berlin bust or coinage, but then again this is supposed to be her as the goddess Venus, so perhaps her facial features were deliberately idealized, softened, and made prettier.
 
Last edited:
Jan 2018
283
Netherlands
#4
Is there any cogent argument why those painted portraits should be taken to represent Cleopatra rather than, for instance, some historical or mythological figure, or even one of the female residents of the house?
 
Jan 2017
132
Virginia, USA
#5
Is there any cogent argument why those painted portraits should be taken to represent Cleopatra rather than, for instance, some historical or mythological figure, or even one of the female residents of the house?
Residents of the house? Everyday women of the ancient world didn't go around wearing the royal diadem of Hellenistic monarchs (or the precise hairdo sported by a handful of Ptolemaic queens). This is the primary reason why the bust in the British Museum, dated to around the time of Cleopatra's visits to Rome, is now thought to be a woman from her entourage or simply a Roman woman imitating her hairdo. It wasn't even a precise imitation, though, because while it has the effect of a "melon" with the braids, the bun in the back is completely different from what scholars accept as Cleopatra's busts, coins, and paintings.

At the very least all of these paintings and busts depict a Hellenistic queen, given the royal iconography, and there weren't that many noteworthy queens in Greek history. They become even more obviously linked to Cleopatra given that there were only two other queens in the Ptolemaic dynasty who sported that specific hairdo: Queen Arsinoe II and Berenice II. Cleopatra revived it after it had fallen out of use for centuries; it doesn't take much deduction to see what's going on here.

Of the three paintings, only the one in the House of Giuseppe II doesn't make this hairdo emphatically clear. Despite that, the painting has tons of other little details that link it to Cleopatra. Even the layout of the scene with the double doors placed high above is exactly how her lavish tomb was described by Plutarch. One servant is holding a tray with handle in the shape of an Egyptian crocodile. Both the woman and the man behind her (most likely 17-year-old Caesarion) are wearing royal diadems. Two women stand by as they watch her drinking poison, crying over her death. This is an obvious reference to Charmion and Eiras, who would commit suicide shortly afterwards, to follow their queen into the afterlife.

Aside from all of that, the facial features of the paintings align with Cleopatra's coinage. And if that wasn't painfully obvious enough, the Roman artists who painted the portrait of her at Herculaneum did so with a bunch of Egyptian-style motifs surrounding it (unfortunately out of view in the photograph above). I think I already explained the painting at the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus well enough in the OP. If you're looking for cogent arguments, click the link to Walker's 2008 article that I provided above, where you will find plenty of them.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
1,081
Scotland
#6
Residents of the house? Everyday women of the ancient world didn't go around wearing the royal diadem of Hellenistic monarchs (or the precise hairdo sported by a handful of Ptolemaic queens). This is the primary reason why the bust in the British Museum, dated to around the time of Cleopatra's visits to Rome, is now thought to be a woman from her entourage or simply a Roman woman imitating her hairdo. It wasn't even a precise imitation, though, because while it has the effect of a "melon" with the braids, the bun in the back is completely different from what scholars accept as Cleopatra's busts, coins, and paintings.

At the very least all of these paintings and busts depict a Hellenistic queen, given the royal iconography, and there weren't that many noteworthy queens in Greek history. They become even more obviously linked to Cleopatra given that there were only two other queens in the Ptolemaic dynasty who sported that specific hairdo: Queen Arsinoe II and Berenice II. Cleopatra revived it after it had fallen out of use for centuries; it doesn't take much deduction to see what's going on here.

Of the three paintings, only the one in the House of Giuseppe II doesn't make this hairdo emphatically clear. Despite that, the painting has tons of other little details that link it to Cleopatra. Even the layout of the scene with the double doors placed high above is exactly how her lavish tomb was described by Plutarch. One servant is holding a tray with handle in the shape of an Egyptian crocodile. Both the woman and the man behind her (most likely 17-year-old Caesarion) are wearing royal diadems. Two women stand by as they watch her drinking poison, crying over her death. This is an obvious reference to Charmion and Eiras, who would commit suicide shortly afterwards, to follow their queen into the afterlife.

Aside from all of that, the facial features of the paintings align with Cleopatra's coinage. And if that wasn't painfully obvious enough, the Roman artists who painted the portrait of her at Herculaneum did so with a bunch of Egyptian-style motifs surrounding it (unfortunately out of view in the photograph above). I think I already explained the painting at the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus well enough in the OP. If you're looking for cogent arguments, click the link to Walker's 2008 article that I provided above, where you will find plenty of them.
A very interesting article, thank you and very instructive. It's an interesting (as well as specialised) area. Thank you also for the S Watling article, which was really helpful.

My area is really more towards coins, and it's fascinating to see how the portraits appear similar. Coins are often the only known named portraits (albeit usually in profile only) to try to tie in with and as most statues/parts/paintings are found unnamed, it is clear that attribution is often a matter of opinion (as Watling seems to state) and sometimes these opinions may be revised.

That said, there is clearly a strong argument for these portraits being Cleopatra in these instances. Nevertheless, a personal connection with the house owner cannot be dismissed. There must have been many women with somewhat similar appearance and portraying your wife or relative as Cleopatra might have been a possibility; if this were perceived as politically incorrect one could simply argue it was indeed Cleopatra.

I enjoyed the article as said, but if there wasnt a strong response it may be that it wasn't clear how you wished others to participate. Im also glad you revised your response to the last posting- often it isn't what you say but how you say it! I look forward to seeing other posts from you.
 
Jan 2018
283
Netherlands
#7
Residents of the house? Everyday women of the ancient world didn't go around wearing the royal diadem of Hellenistic monarchs (or the precise hairdo sported by a handful of Ptolemaic queens).
No, but they probably also didn't go around dressed like Venus, and yet at least one had herself represented that way (as witnessed by a statue kept today in the Capitoline Museum).

According to Walker, the Cupid identifies the woman in the painting as Venus (with the features of Cleopatra), and of course the author has a lot more expertise than I do, but Roman coins depicting Venus Genetrix suggest that the iconic statue at Rome did not have a Cupid seated on its shoulder.


Also, does Cupid really wear "a miniature version of the body chain" or is that just the belt of his quiver? I can’t see it clearly in the picture.

Pliny says that Caesar had the temple of Venus Genetrix adorned with a famous and very expensive painting of Medea. Suppose that this temple is in fact represented by the doors in the painting, why couldn't the face with the tragic expression (and with exaggerated oriental features?) be that of Medea, daughter of the king of Colchis and bride of Jason (hence the crown and the veil), who fell victim to a destructive kind of love (hence the tragic-looking Cupid)?
 
Jan 2017
132
Virginia, USA
#8
A very interesting article, thank you and very instructive. It's an interesting (as well as specialised) area. Thank you also for the S Watling article, which was really helpful.
You're welcome, but to my knowledge I did not cite anyone called "S Watling". I think you meant to say Susan Walker. ;)

That said, there is clearly a strong argument for these portraits being Cleopatra in these instances. Nevertheless, a personal connection with the house owner cannot be dismissed. There must have been many women with somewhat similar appearance and portraying your wife or relative as Cleopatra might have been a possibility; if this were perceived as politically incorrect one could simply argue it was indeed Cleopatra.
Interesting idea, but is there any evidence that patrons of Roman frescoes at Pompeii depicted the home's owners and patrons as contemporary monarchs or even as deities attached to specific temples like that of Venus Genetrix in Rome? It doesn't sound very likely to me. I don't think I've ever seen a single piece of Roman art where a Roman woman was painted or sculpted to precisely imitate a living foreign queen. That would be scandalous if not prohibited (Caesar was keen not to wear the diadem at the Lupercalia festival, despite Mark Antony's staged insistence that he be crowned like a king). In regards to Cleopatra, the closest thing would have been women loosely copying her hairstyle, but they did so without the royal diadem, chief symbol of Macedonian-Greek kingship.

Furthermore, aside from the painting in the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, are there any depictions of Venus Genetrix wearing a Greek diadem? I would venture to say there are none, although I could be wrong. More importantly, her translucent veil under the diadem, as explained by Walker, shows her melon-style braided hair. The combination of the diadem with the braided melon hairstyle is what defines the standard look of Cleopatra on virtually every coin she ever minted.

No, but they probably also didn't go around dressed like Venus, and yet at least one had herself represented that way (as witnessed by a statue kept today in the Capitoline Museum).
Interesting, thanks for the info, but one example doesn't sound like a common occurrence to me; sounds like an absolute rarity. If it was a whole sub-genre of statuary in the Roman tradition that would be one thing. As far as I know Roman women (or their husbands) typically did not commission artworks depicting themselves as goddesses and sacred figures to the Roman people. Cleopatra, on the other hand, was frequently depicted as a goddess (particularly Isis and Hathor, as well as Venus/Aphrodite with the statue erected by Caesar and the aforementioned Esquiline Venus). We have surviving artworks of this and textual explanations offered by ancient historians. This, along with a host of other reasons, makes Cleopatra the far more likely candidate.

According to Walker, the Cupid identifies the woman in the painting as Venus (with the features of Cleopatra), and of course the author has a lot more expertise than I do, but Roman coins depicting Venus Genetrix suggest that the iconic statue at Rome did not have a Cupid seated on its shoulder.
Even if the painting in the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii wasn't a 100% faithful reproduction of the actual statue of Cleopatra at the Temple of Venus Genetrix erected by Caesar in the Forum of Caesar, that still doesn't change one important thing: the combination of the diadem, melon-style hairdo, and veil, typically all worn by Ptolemaic queens Arsinoe II and Berenice II in their own coin portraits, signify that the painting at Pompeii is with a high degree of certitude a depiction of Cleopatra. Caesar's deliberate connection of Cleopatra, mother to his child Caesarion, to the goddess Venus Genetrix (i.e. Venus the Mother) is an obvious choice, given his proposed lineage and the fact that Venus, mother of Cupid, was also considered the mother of Aeneas, the Trojan forefather of the Romans. One should also consider the surviving sculpted frieze depictions of cupids at the Temple of Venus Genetrix, albeit placed there later in 113 AD, during the reign of Trajan. It at least demonstrates that the temple itself featured depictions of cupids:



The coin you have here is also dated to the reign of Nero, is it not? That is his second wife Poppaea Augusta Sabina on the obverse, right? Remember the argument Walker (and Ludwig Curtius before her) made about the Vatican Cleopatra bust showing damage marks on its left cheek, where a possible cupid's hand was knocked off? Sounds like deliberate reconstruction and repurposing to me, particularly if it was meant to depict Caesarion, executed by Octavian in August 30 BC for being a rival heir to Julius Caesar. Who's to say Augustus didn't do the same thing to the statue of Cleopatra that stood in the Temple of Venus Genetrix? He clearly did not proscribe images of Cleopatra, but we know as fact that he purposely knocked down every statue of Mark Antony that he could find while sparing those of Cleopatra only due to the direct payment to Octavian by her old friend Archibius to preserve them. Do you think Octavian, who treated his rival Mark Antony in such a way (a rival he still admired in many ways), wouldn't do the same to the 17-year-old kid he had murdered because of the enormous threat he posed to Octavian's entire legitimacy?

Have fun arguing against that.

For your convenience, since you can access the article by Walker but probably cannot do the same for Duane W. Roller (2010) cited above, I will happily reproduce for you and everyone else the passage from pp. 174-175 in his book where he talks about this very issue:

"Similar to the Berlin head is one in the Vatican, discovered at a villa on the Via Appia in the late eighteenth century and recently suggested to be the most certain extant portrait of Cleopatra. A striking representation in Parian marble, it has the same hairstyle, royal diadem, and general features as the Berlin head. Unfortunately its nose is broken, so it does not project the same solemnity as its Berlin counterpart, but it belongs to the same tradition. A rough and irregular patch on the left cheek suggests that (at least on the original) something was attached there, perhaps the infant Caesarion perched on his mother's shoulder. These portraits portray Cleopatra in her early twenties but nevertheless show a woman of already exceptionally mature bearing. Both may be versions of the famous gold statue of the queen that Caesar commissioned for his Forum Julium (see p. 72). In fact, this statue may be the archetype for many portraits of Cleopatra, and it now seems probable that a contemporary rendition of it exists as a Second Style wall painting at Pompeii, in Room 71 of the House of M. Fabius Rufus. This shows a royal woman who strongly resembles the queen as depicted in the Vatican portrait, wearing a royal diadem and holding a cupid on her shoulder, appearing at the massive double doors of a templelike structure. Although a rendering of Venus with Cupid comes immediately to mind, the diadem means that the subject is a royal person and that any divinity is only allegorical. The date of the painting is firmly fixed in the 40s B.C., the very time that Cleopatra was twice in Italy. There seems little doubt that this is a depiction of Cleopatra and Caesarion before the doors of the Temple of Venus in the Forum Julium, and, as such, it becomes the only extant contemporary painting of the queen. Interestingly, it was concealed during a major remodeling of the house in the Augustan period, perhaps not so much an objection to continued visibility of Cleopatra (who after all could be seen in the Forum Julium and perhaps elsewhere) but of Caesarion, whose claim to be the legitimate heir of Julius Caesar was a continuing sore point for the new regime."

Also, does Cupid really wear "a miniature version of the body chain" or is that just the belt of his quiver? I can’t see it clearly in the picture.
Looks like a chain to me. Here is a higher resolution version for your convenience:



Pliny says that Caesar had the temple of Venus Genetrix adorned with a famous and very expensive painting of Medea. Suppose that this temple is in fact represented by the doors in the painting, why couldn't the face with the tragic expression (and with exaggerated oriental features?) be that of Medea, daughter of the king of Colchis and bride of Jason (hence the crown and the veil), who fell victim to a destructive kind of love (hence the tragic-looking Cupid)?
That's a possibility, although a counterpoint to that would be the melon-style hairdo under the veil (as indicated by the periodically-placed crinkles in the veil for hair being braided back into a bun). As mentioned before, this was the distinctive look of Cleopatra. Why would Medea be depicted in such a way, as a Ptolemaic queen? I don't think she ever was depicted with this sort of hairstyle in any existing artworks of her. Prove me wrong!

I'd also like to see your proposal for why the owner of the house felt compelled to secretively hide this hypothetical painting of Medea right around the time Caesarion was killed (i.e. 30 BC). Walling it off is a pretty drastic move. The owner of the house could have even destroyed the painting or painted over it, but no, he didn't. He deliberately preserved it. As far as I know Medea, wife of Jason in Greek mythology, was not a controversial figure to the Romans.

Another argument against this being a reproduction of the painting of Medea at the Temple of Venus Genetrix is the obvious placement of the woman standing between or just behind the massive doors of the temple. It suggests a three-dimensional statue placed within the temple, not some painting in or from the temple.

Last but not least, the facial features of the woman in the painting here is directly compared to the Berlin and Vatican busts of Cleopatra, by both Roller and Walker. We have a known painting of Medea from Pompeii, but no cupid can be found, and her facial features look nothing like that of the painting from the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
1,081
Scotland
#9
You're welcome, but to my knowledge I did not cite anyone called "S Watling". I think you meant to say Susan Walker. ;)
I must have being heading up the wrong street there! :)

Interesting idea, but is there any evidence that patrons of Roman frescoes at Pompeii depicted the home's owners and patrons as contemporary monarchs or even as deities attached to specific temples like that of Venus Genetrix in Rome? It doesn't sound very likely to me. I don't think I've ever seen a single piece of Roman art where a Roman woman was painted or sculpted to precisely imitate a living foreign queen.
It seems extremely likely to me, that if you are going to spend a great deal of money on this a personal element will intrude. Portraits and individualism have always been popular. You quoted earlier yourself, a bust allegedly of Cleopatra which was probably a Roman lady, so that would indeed seem to be the case. Even Ms Susan Walker (No Watling for me this time!) admitted that a personal angle could not be excluded. In days where portraits from life would not have been accurate or even necessarily a great likeness at all- no photos- to substitute a familiar face in would hardly stand out. Aquiline noses were hardly exclusive to Cleopatra.How would anybody be able to reference a true likeness? To an oft-copied bust by local artists? A painter would probably prefer to paint from life anyway. Cleopatra was not a deity so blasphemy doesn't come into it and Caesar was in a somewhat different situation.


Furthermore, aside from the painting in the House of Marcus Fabius Rufus at Pompeii, are there any depictions of Venus Genetrix wearing a Greek diadem? I would venture to say there are none, although I could be wrong. More importantly, her translucent veil under the diadem, as explained by Walker, shows her melon-style braided hair. The combination of the diadem with the braided melon hairstyle is what defines the standard look of Cleopatra on virtually every coin she ever minted.
Even if so, that doesn't prevent a Roman equivalent of photo-shopping.
As Ms Walker said, the possibility cannot be excluded regardless of the argument- and human nature says otherwise.


The coin you have here is also dated to the reign of Nero, is it not?
Nope- it's Vibia Sabina, better known as Mrs. Hadrian. Dates to 118-136CE.
Given Hadrian's preferences, she wasn't the happiest of ladies. So it's around 60 years after Nero.


Have fun arguing against that.
I find your facts fascinating and really appreciate the imagery you have taken so much trouble to show us, but surely we try to learn from one another rather than score points and 'win'?

For your convenience, since you can access the article by Walker but probably cannot do the same for Duane W. Roller (2010) cited above, I will happily reproduce for you and everyone else the passage from pp. 174-175 in his book where he talks about this very issue:

"Similar to the Berlin head is one in the Vatican, discovered at a villa on the Via Appia in the late eighteenth century and recently suggested to be the most certain extant portrait of Cleopatra. A striking representation in Parian marble, it has the same hairstyle, royal diadem, and general features as the Berlin head. Unfortunately its nose is broken, so it does not project the same solemnity as its Berlin counterpart, but it belongs to the same tradition. A rough and irregular patch on the left cheek suggests that (at least on the original) something was attached there, perhaps the infant Caesarion perched on his mother's shoulder. These portraits portray Cleopatra in her early twenties but nevertheless show a woman of already exceptionally mature bearing. Both may be versions of the famous gold statue of the queen that Caesar commissioned for his Forum Julium (see p. 72). In fact, this statue may be the archetype for many portraits of Cleopatra, and it now seems probable that a contemporary rendition of it exists as a Second Style wall painting at Pompeii, in Room 71 of the House of M. Fabius Rufus. This shows a royal woman who strongly resembles the queen as depicted in the Vatican portrait, wearing a royal diadem and holding a cupid on her shoulder, appearing at the massive double doors of a templelike structure. Although a rendering of Venus with Cupid comes immediately to mind, the diadem means that the subject is a royal person and that any divinity is only allegorical. The date of the painting is firmly fixed in the 40s B.C., the very time that Cleopatra was twice in Italy. There seems little doubt that this is a depiction of Cleopatra and Caesarion before the doors of the Temple of Venus in the Forum Julium, and, as such, it becomes the only extant contemporary painting of the queen. Interestingly, it was concealed during a major remodeling of the house in the Augustan period, perhaps not so much an objection to continued visibility of Cleopatra (who after all could be seen in the Forum Julium and perhaps elsewhere) but of Caesarion, whose claim to be the legitimate heir of Julius Caesar was a continuing sore point for the new regime."
This is much appreciated, Thank You.
 
Jan 2017
132
Virginia, USA
#10
I must have being heading up the wrong street there! :)
Lol. There was an ancient Roman battle along that street, wasn't there. :D

It seems extremely likely to me, that if you are going to spend a great deal of money on this a personal element will intrude. Portraits and individualism have always been popular. You quoted earlier yourself, a bust allegedly of Cleopatra which was probably a Roman lady, so that would indeed seem to be the case. Even Ms Susan Walker (No Watling for me this time!) admitted that a personal angle could not be excluded. In days where portraits from life would not have been accurate or even necessarily a great likeness at all- no photos- to substitute a familiar face in would hardly stand out. Aquiline noses were hardly exclusive to Cleopatra.How would anybody be able to reference a true likeness? To an oft-copied bust by local artists? A painter would probably prefer to paint from life anyway. Cleopatra was not a deity so blasphemy doesn't come into it and Caesar was in a somewhat different situation.
Sorry, I'm not convinced, not even in the slightest. To my knowledge Roman women did not portray themselves as foreign queens, and the very idea of Roman men taking on the trappings of Hellenistic kingship was deemed highly scandalous and frowned upon by regular Romans, especially the oligarchic Senate. This is something they chided Pompey for when he returned home from the east with riches and fine clothing. It's something Caesar was deftly aware of with his little play performance of refusing the diadem crown foisted on him by Mark Antony at the Lupercalia festival. It is something Octavian was very careful to avoid as he amassed constitutional powers to become the first emperor Augustus, or better yet the first among equals and citizens as he portrayed it. Much later Roman emperors were more comfortable presenting themselves as autocratic rulers, without question by the time of Diocletian and the Dominate-style government.

Let's put it another way: do you have any evidence, and I mean a tiny shred, that any Roman woman ever and I mean ever portrayed herself as a living foreign queen during the Republican period? If so you better publish your findings quick before someone beats you to it, because that ought to be the find of the decade. :D

Nope- it's Vibia Sabina, better known as Mrs. Hadrian. Dates to 118-136CE.
Given Hadrian's preferences, she wasn't the happiest of ladies. So it's around 60 years after Nero.
Thanks for the speedy correction. ;)

I find your facts fascinating and really appreciate the imagery you have taken so much trouble to show us, but surely we try to learn from one another rather than score points and 'win'?
Pfft. You're no fun. :squinting:

Perhaps I forget myself sometimes, that I'm on a serious forum like Historum, and not somewhere else. Perhaps I'm too used to arguing with abrasive jerk-offs on Reddit and in Youtube commentary sections. Some of those places will slowly but surely drain away whatever politeness and humanity you might have had.

Also, this is kinda sorta my brand of sardonic humor. ;)

This is much appreciated, Thank You.
Yep, no problem.
 

Similar History Discussions