After the Battle of Actium and the conquest of Alexandria by Octavian, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra had a message sent to Mark Antony, her consort and lord of the Asiatic provinces, reporting her supposed death. On hearing it, Mark Antony fell on his sword and had himself taken to Cleopatra, where he died in her arms. Her attempts to win over Octavian came to nothing, whereupon she committed suicide by placing an asp to her breast. This relief follows Plutarch’s account, showing the dying Mark Antony and Cleopatra lamenting. The snake seen uncoiling from a basket foreshadows the imminent death of the queen. The architectural ruins convey a moral message about the transience of luxurious splendour. Together with the deities of antiquity, the heroic figures of ancient history were the favourite subjects of Venetian Renaissance art. The Berlin relief was made by Giovanni Maria Mosca, who specialized in smallformat marble reliefs in the style of classical antiquity.


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