Pictures of Cleo I

Bust of Cleopatra, Altes Museum, Berlin

Tomorrow is opening night.  Today we have another long day of combined tech rehearsal and final dress.  Inside the beautiful Burnt Cove Church, which is our stage, we are working with both natural and electric light, and so for today’s run we need to have enough time in the space after the sun sets to see everything the lights will do at the actual showtime.  We’ll start at 1 this afternoon and will end our work day at 11pm–which is not to say work stops.  We just go home. I’ve been collecting images of Cleopatra.  Painters and sculptors can’t resist her as a subject.  Pop stars, actresses, fashion designers, archeologists, historians…even sand sculptors and chocolatiers have found a muse in her.  The Romans who conquered her empire and rewrote her history smashed her statues and did their best to destroy all record of her actual appearance, but the human imagination has never let go of her.  Here is a look at images of Cleopatra.

A carving of Cleopatra and Cesarion at the Temple of Dendera

Black Basalt Statue of Cleopatra, 51-30 BC

Coins featuring images of Cleopatra are, according to some historians, the only reliable depictions of her.  Maybe, maybe not.

The Death of Cleopatra, Guido Cagnacci, 1658

Cleopatra, William Wetmore, 1860

The Banquet of Cleopatra, Gerard Hoet, Early 1700’s.

In Hoet’s painting, Cleopatra is seen dropping a pearl into a cup, and thereby hangs a tale. As the story goes, Cleo bet Mark Antony that she could spend 10 million sesterces (in today’s currency, about a million dollars) on a single meal. She won the bet by bringing in a cup of vinegar for the second course, dropping an enormously valuable pearl into it, and drinking it once it had dissolved. Poppin’ bottles, drinkin’ pearls: Cleo and Antony rolled deep.

The Death of Cleopatra, Jean Andre Rixens, 1874

Antony and Cleopatra, Alma-Tadema, 1883

Cleopatra Testing Poisons on Condemned Prisoners, Alexandre Cabanel, 1887.

When Caesar finds that Cleopatra has foiled his plan to lead her in triumph through Rome, he is not surprised to find poison the likely culprit, “for her physician tells me/ She hath pursued conclusions infinite/ Of easy ways to die.”  The legend that Cleopatra tested poisons on prisoners clearly captured Cabanel’s imagination.

Cleopatra on the Terraces of Philae, Bridgeman, 1896

According to some historians, Caesar had a portrait of Cleopatra made after her death, then trundled it through Rome–not as good as the Queen herself held captive, but conquerors can’t always be choosers. This composite was created based on accounts of that portrait. So maybe Cleo really was a blonde, and our production’s gesture in casting me isn’t as far off the mark as people might assume.

There are so many extraordinary images of Cleopatra.  I’ll do a second post on the subject with more modern works and photos, including some of the many great actresses who have stepped into the role.  Before we go, though, here is Sandy Cleo:

Cleopatra in Sand

…and Chocolate Cleo:

…and my favorite, fabulous neo-Cleo:

From Chilean artist Fab Ciraolo’s “Icons as Hipsters” series
…and as my friend Aryeh calls it, White Trash Cleo, taken yesterday at the door of our church, where Cleo’s memorial is just starting to take shape:
…See ya on opening night!
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4 thoughts on “Pictures of Cleo I

    • Hi fave–this post was about a production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” which ran last summer and now exists only in memory. For now we’ll all have to memorialize Cleo in our imaginations!

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