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Cleopatra Dying

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

Sculptures
France, 17th and 18th centuries

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

After the death of Julius Caesar, the triumvirs who ruled Rome, Mark Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus, eliminated the republicans and shared out the Roman Empire (Octavius, the West; Mark Antony, the East; and Lepidus, Africa). Mark Antony, seduced by Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, gradually gave up his possessions to her. Octavian declared war on Egypt and triumphed over Mark Antony at the battle of Actium, after which Cleopatra committed suicide by means of an asp.

A theatrical and sensual work

The artist has transformed a tragic historical episode into a sensual and voluptuous image. The queen is languishing, half-lying on her bed, supported by a cushion and her left arm. Barois perhaps had in mind a classical statue much admired since the Renaissance, Ariadne Abandoned, considered at the time to be a respresentation of Cleopatra. A cast of the original, in the Vatican, was made for Francis I by Primaticcio (a Florentine artist working at the French court), and a bronze copy was made for the Château de Fontainebleau. Cleopatra's garment, with braids and with a metalwork belt, has slipped to reveal her breasts. The limp left shoulder, the head hanging back, and the eyes gazing heavenward express a somewhat ecstatic pain. Part of her veil clings to her bare shoulder. The sculptor, who is using the subject as a stylistic exercise in drapery, accentuates the scene's voluptuousness.

The statuette replaces the bas-relief

François Barois was admitted to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture on the strength of this sculpture on October 30, 1700. His was the first of the series of in-the-round admission pieces that the Académie would subsequently prefer to bas-reliefs. The marble statuette of Polyphemus submitted by Cornelius Van Cleve as his admission piece in 1661 was an exceptional precedent. This type of statuette became the norm until the Académie was abolished in 1793.

Bibliography

Gaborit, Jean-René (sous la dir. de), Sculpture française, t. II.
Renaissance et Temps modernes, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1998.

Technical description

  • François BAROIS (Paris, 1656 - Paris, 1726)

    Cleopatra Dying

    Provenance: collections of the Académie Royale

  • Marble

    H. 0.48 m; W. 1.01 m; D. 0.29 m

  • M.R 1756

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Girardon Crypt
    Room 20

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