- Jan 2017
- Virginia, USA
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^ 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.
^ 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.
^ 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.
So, what do you guys think! Pretty neat, huh?
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.