A larger-than-life personality guided by power, political alliances, civil wars and seduction, Egypt’s Queen Cleopatra VII has inspired countless generations of artists to capture some of the most telling moments of her life in nearly every medium imaginable. But no other portrait captures the dramatic end of her remarkable existence than this monumental genre masterpiece by Swedish artist Julius Kronberg.
This breathtaking original oil on canvas measures over 13 feet tall, allowing the viewer to immerse themselves in the very moment Cleopatra famously took her own life by allowing a highly poisonous asp to bite her. It is believed Kronberg’s inspiration was William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra which was published in Sweden for the first time in 1825.
After Antony and Cleopatra’s defeat at the hands of Octavian, Antony took his own life mistakenly believing his beloved Queen was already dead. News of this reached Cleopatra who, overtaken by both the grief of his loss and pride in not wanting to surrender, she decides to commit suicide with her handmaidens, Charmain and Iras. It is this very moment Kronberg depicts – with Iras already dead on the ground and Charmain writhing in agony as Cleopatra grabs the asp with a posture of strength and determination in her expression.
Taking cues from Orientalist works, the artist presents an amazingly intricate and vibrant interior that exudes exoticism and spectacle, with the Queen and her two attendants set amidst the lavishness of a royal chamber. This is marvelously juxtaposed by their twisted, strained poses which exude the tragedy and anguish unfolding in this tour de force of Academic art.
Kronberg created very few stand-alone paintings during his career, preferring large-scale murals and ceiling works. Those he did execute were commissioned by wealthy, private Swedish clients. This very work was painted for Count Frederick Wachtmeister and his family’s Tistad Castle, where this painting resided until just recently. With the majority of those few paintings residing in prestigious Swedish museums, this grand masterwork stands as arguably the greatest Academic work of art currently on the market.
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