John Collier, The Death of Cleopatra, 1890

Collier is better known as a portrait painter but he did paint a couple history paintings, this one being the largest painting he ever attempted at 10×13.’ He went and stayed in the Great Temple at Philae in southernmost Egypt in order to reproduce the backdrop to the scene with historical accuracy.

Collier has depicted Cleopatra on the divan, already dead after committing suicide by poisoning. Her two maids, Eiras and Charmion, are reported to have taken their lives alongside their queen. One maid has collapsed on the floor while the other is succumbing to the poison as she leans against the divan, although the lack of panic on her face makes it seem more like she’s sexily lounging about (we’ll chalk that up to the taste of 19th Century heterosexual males). Collier has not shown us the famous asp that is said to have bitten Cleopatra, for there has never been definitive evidence that that is how she died.


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I really enjoyed this collection AND the explanations offered. The best art history lecture yet! Thanks for putting this together.

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