Elisabetta Sirani

Italian, 1638 - 1665

Cleopatra, ca. 1645–65

  • On View

Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 37 1/4 × 29 3/4 in. (94.6 × 75.6 cm)
Framed: 50 × 42 in. (127 × 106.7 cm)

Gift of the Hurand family in memory of Dr. Ben Bryer, 2002.53

Elisabetta Sirani was the daughter of Giovanni Andrea Sirani, assistant to the noted Baroque painter Guido Reni. As a woman, she was prohibited from attending the Royal Academy. Instead, she apprenticed under her father and became a professional artist by the age of seventeen. Along with her sisters, she was one of a small number of women to attain that status during the Baroque period. Sirani created a significant body of work that includes over two hundred pieces before her premature death at the age of twenty-seven.Typical of her work and its concentration on female themes, she visited the subject of Cleopatra in at least two other known examples. Here, the Queen of Egypt is shown holding a pearl over a drinking cup. As the story goes, Cleopatra dissolved a priceless pearl in a cup of wine and drank it in order to convey to her lover, Marc Antony, that she was completely disinterested in luxury and extravagance. The strong contrast between light and dark, which makes it seem as if a spotlight has lit up Cleopatra’s face against a dark background, marks this work an example of the dramatic and dynamic Baroque period.

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