RP.4 Death of Cleopatra

RP.4 Death of Cleopatra

Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, no. 479.

Poplar, 88 x 75.

Fig.RP.4b bw

The background drapery is dark green with its fringe behind Cleopatra’s head yellow-orange, red-orange, and green, all dark.  Behind her raised arm the background is dark wine red.  Cleopatra’s hair is brown; her skin is whitish and greenish, her lips pale.  The body probably has a blue-gray underpainting visible at the worn spot at her left nipple.  She wears a “gold” earring with a pendant pearl.  The drapery under her raised arm is pink-lavender becoming progressively darker in the shadow.  The drapery over her lap is dull blue-green with an ochre edge meant perhaps to describe fur.  The pillows are yellowish white becoming green with ochre decoration and tassel.  The snake is black, brown, and yellow.  The carved head at the lower right is brown-orange indicating wood.  The attendant has dark blond hair.  Her skin is touched with pink.  Her drapery is lavender and yellow cangiante.  The dark color behind her profile and left arm is blackish, its original color not discernible.  Her sash is dark ochre.  Franklin recognized a large amount of repainting on Cleopatra’s left shoulder and hip, but thought it was otherwise in excellent condition, although, compared to copies of it (see below), possibly trimmed by about ten centimeters at the top.


Sabine Jacob and Rüdiger Klessmann, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum Braunschweig, Verzeichnis der Gemälde vor 1800, Braunschweig, 1976, 34, no. 479, as Italian, c. 1600; acquired or first inventoried in 1710.

Burton B. Fredericksen, “A New Painting by Rosso Fiorentino,” Scritti di storia dell’arte in onore di Federico Zeri, edited by Mauro Natale, I, Milan, 1984, 323-331, as Rosso, 1525-1529, and with earlier bibliography; he recognized a relationship to the ancient statue of the Sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican, known since 1512.

Jacob, Sabine, “From Giorgione to Cavallino,” Apollo, 123, no. 289, 1986, 186-188, with Fig., as possibly by Rosso, from the Roman period or later, and stylistically similar to the Boston Dead Christ; she also indicated that the picture had been attributed to Rosso by Richard Harprath.

Giovannetti, in Pittura, Cinquecento, 1988, II, 826, as Rosso.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 26, 134-135, no. 26, with Color Pl., as probably a copy of a lost painting by Rosso of 1523-1529.

Franklin, 1994, 148-155, 170, 226, 285, ns. 99-105, Color frontispiece, and Color Pl. 112, as Rosso, and while it cannot with certainty be placed in the Roman period, its style and subject matter firmly place it there, it being closest in style to Rosso’s Roman Dead Christ in Boston.

Burresi, in Rosso e Volterra, 1994, 150, under no. 3, as considered an old copy after Rosso.

Harprath, 1944, 359, as Rosso.

Fredericksen and Jacob pointed out that in 1710 the painting was attributed to Titian, an attribution it still bore in the museum catalogue of 1836.  By the mid-nineteenth century it had been attributed to Guido Reni, under whose name it appeared in the catalogue of 1900.  The 1922 catalogue recorded Longhi’s suggestion that it is by Poppi.  Sabine stated that it has also been attributed to Canlassi, and to anonymous Netherlandish, Florentine, and Bolognese painters of the seventeenth century.  In the last catalogue of 1976 it was listed as Italian, around 1600.

Fredericksen also recorded nine other versions of this picture.  The one at Hampton Court (no. 981, on panel, Fredericksen’s Fig. 316; Franklin, 1994, 147, Pl. 111), after being attributed to Ludovico Carracci for a long time, has recently been identified through an inventory of Charles I’s pictures as by the Flemish painter, also active in Naples and Rome, Aert Mytens (Rinaldo Fiammingo, 1541-1601), and as done in Naples (Fig.Aert Mytens, Hampton Court).  Others have been attributed to Guido Reni (Kassel, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, on canvas, Fredericksen’s Fig. 317; Franklin, 1994, 148), to Furini (Pisa, Museo Nazionale di San Matteo, Fredericksen’s Fig. 318), to Cagnacci (Potsdam, no. GK 2189, on canvas; Franklin, 1994, 148), to “Van Haarlem,” (Christie’s, London, 5 February 1971, lot 38, on canvas, sold to the Arcade Gallery, London), to Frans Floris (Christie’s, Rome, 22 May 1980, on canvas, Fredericksen’s Fig. 319), and again to Mytens (Christie’s, London, 1 August 1975, on canvas).  One was thought to be first French and then Bolognese of the seventeenth century (Springfield, Massachusetts, dealer, on canvas, Fredericksen’s Fig. 320); another, transformed into the Magdalen, was considered Flemish, seventeenth century.  Franklin, 285, n. 104, notes another copy, brought to his attention by Sabine Jacob, in the Nationalmuseum, Warsaw, inv. no. M.Ob.204 (panel, 102 x 94), and that the image appears in the background of a picture by Job Adriaensz. Berckheyde, dated 1685, offered for sale twice by Christie’s, Monaco (7 December 1987, lot 23; 16 June 1989, lot 27).  Fredericksen thought the Braunschweig picture was influential upon Guido Reni’s Penitent Magdalen, known from several versions (although he thought the pose of Cleopatra may be dependent upon the Roman Sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican from which the Braunschweig figure is also derived), and upon Caravaggio’s Magdalen of 1606, known from numerous copies.  He also believed to see its influence upon the Venetian Giuseppe Angeli’s Sleeping Shepherdess at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, possibly through the many copies that were made of the Braunschweig painting.

I know only the Braunschweig picture in the original.  It is a very fine painting and looks superior to the other five versions that Fredericksen reproduced, however in smaller illustrations (it is also the only reproduced version that seems to show a fur edge to Cleopatra’s garment thrown over her leg).  The version that was on the market in Springfield, Massachusetts, is enlarged on all sides, with architecture at the left, and so is clearly a variation of what, from the other pictures, can be considered the original composition.  However, it cannot be known now that the Braunschweig painting is the first and original version of this image.  It and the Hampton Court painting are on panel, which gives them some priority.  The support of the painting in Pisa and the one transformed into the Magdalen are not known.  The others are on canvas.

From the Braunschweig painting, and from the reproductions of the other four very similar versions, the Death of Cleopatra does not appear to me to be by Rosso.  Fredericksen wanted to see it as related to Rosso’s Dead Christ in Boston (Fig.P.18a) and to his Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro (Fig.P.19a).  But the resemblances seem to me superficial.  Fundamentally, Rosso’s pictures are composed planarly, with major planes parallel to the picture plane and secondary planes perpendicular or at a forty-five degree angle to it.  The Braunschweig picture is conceived with its forms existing totally and continually in space.  There are no angular relationships of planes of form or of light and shade.  In fact, the light and shade resolve the lateral and receding planes of the picture.  Furthermore, the decorative elements of Rosso’s pictures form a network of almost brittle ornament.  In the Death of Cleopatra the clarity of details is reduced to resolve them as well into the spatial continuum of the composition.  The Braunschweig picture is a considerably later creation.

If the version at Hampton Court is by Mytens then it was done possibly as early as 1557 or shortly thereafter or in the 1580s or early 1590s when he was in Naples.  Except for the old attribution of the Braunschweig painting to Titian and Longhi’s suggestion of Poppi, this picture and all of the other versions of it have always been thought to have been done in the seventeenth century, although the former attribution of the Hampton Court painting to Ludovico Carracci could have implied a date in the last two decades of the sixteenth century.  J. Richard Judson suggested to me, albeit hesitantly, that it could be by a Northern maniera artist, perhaps even a German one in the area of Hans van Aachen.  The Death of Cleopatra seems not to be by an Italian, although it could have been painted in Italy.  Only the decorative head in the lower right corner suggests a connection with Rosso, and with Rosso in France, but by the time this painting was done in the latter part of the sixteenth century (or in the seventeenth century), such a detail could have been obtained from a number of sources, especially prints.  I do not see a particularly close relation to the ancient Sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican, as recognized by Fredericksen.