Lawrence Alma-Tadema made two large-scale versions of The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, 41 BC, taking his inspiration from Shakespeare’s play, rather than historic texts. Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius, 83 BC–30 BC), a Roman politician and general, loses his head to the Egyptian queen Cleopatra (69 BC– 30 BC) when he first observes her beauty.

Recorded as a femme fatale (in truth she was plain but extremely witty, charming, and with ‘sweetness in the tones of her voice’ (Plutarch)), Roman historians later exonerated their soldiers’ ineffectiveness in her presence by accusing her of a seductive extravagance impossible to resist.

Apart from her purported death from an asp bite, one of the most popular scenes of Cleopatra in art shows the high dramatic moment of their narrative when she is seated at a banquet table with Mark Antony. To win a wager with him that she can produce the most expensive meal on earth, she dissolves one of her pearl earrings in a glass of wine before drinking it. This tiny painting is like a photographic close up of the earring in question.

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  • Title: Cleopatra
  • Creator: Lawrence Alma-Tadema
  • Date Created: 1877
  • Subject: Egypt
  • Physical Dimensions: w460 x h445 mm (Without frame)
  • Artist biography: Lawrence Alma-Tadema was born in 1836. He trained at the Royal Academy of Antwerp, Belgium and settled in England in 1870 where he spent the rest of his life. Inspired by the classical world his paintings capture the opulence and excess of the Roman Empire, with languid figures set in marbled interiors. Alma-Tadema died in 1912.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 1916
  • External Link: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
  • Medium: oil on panel

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