Marco Antonio e Cleopatra

Marco Antonio e Cleopatra

Arles, 1760 – 1833

Mark Antony and Cleoptara

dated: 1815 ca.

oil on canvas, cm 127×162

The painting depicts a scene in an antique interior with Corinthian capitals and pilasters, and a bed in the centre of the proscenium. The protagonist of the scene is a naked young woman, who has just got out of her bed and is wearing a crown on her head. In all likelihood this is Cleopatra, one of the best-loved and widely painted queens from antiquity. As a result, the young man who is leaving is probably Mark Antony. Next to her is a handmaiden pointing to her, while behind her we can recognise an allegory of the Three Graces. 

The model that inspired our painter may have been the famous work by Raphael, painted on the wonderful little Chantilly panel, at the Museìe Condeì, or the work of Antonio Canova, who sculpted the allegorical group twice (Hermitage, Saint Petersburg,1812–1815 and Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1814–1817). 

We are looking at a neoclassical-style painting, in keeping with the trend that developed in Rome in the late 18th century and went on to become the most widespread style in every European court until at least the 1820s. 

The most important result of this culture was the French Academy, in particular the Prix de Rome, a scholarship that young French artists could win to work and study for a year at the Villa Medici in Rome, home of the French Academy. 

Our painting is undoubtedly a consequence of that world, and the study of the lucid figures, the blocked sense of emotion and above all the precise way of representing the scene, seem to have been inspired by the work of the 1790 Prix winner, Jacques Réattu, who stayed at the Villa Medici for a few years. His finest works, all on display in the Museìe Reìattu in Arles, stand out for the same clear vision apparent in our canvas and the master’s sense of theatre.