BEING CLEOPATRA: Cleopatra Through the Artist's Eye: Ancient Egypt

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cleopatra Through the Artist's Eye: Ancient Egypt

Picture Source: Rogue Classicism

Head of Cleopatra VII
Sculpture, probably of Cleopatra VII
Early Ptolemaic, Egypt, 50 - 30 BC, 910.75
Located at the Royal Ontario Museum

Once identified simply as "an early Ptolemaic queen or goddess," this beautiful granite bust was recently elevated to star status when proven to be a likeness of one of the most famous women in history, Cleopatra VII. ROM Egyptologist Roberta Shaw made the discovery while reading a catalogue of the British Museum's exhibition Cleopatra of Egypt. In the catalogue, she noticed that a female bust, identified by British scholars as Cleopatra, looked intriguingly similar to the ROM's unidentified statue. After comparing its attributes to known images of Cleopatra in consultation with leading Cleopatra expert Dr. Sally-Ann Ashton, Shaw connected the dots, concluding that the ROM's bust is likely the sister to another Cleopatra statue found in Alexandria.

The ROM's Cleopatra is remarkably similar to its Alexandrian counterpart; the same wig, the same features, the same size. But the key feature that nails the ROM statue's identity is the unusual back pillar with attached crown. Now recognized as a "missing link," the ROM's sculpture is believed to be a very early representation of Cleopatra as Egyptian Queen; the Alexandrian statue represents her as Egyptian goddess. Still, Shaw cautions, "No image of Cleopatra has ever been proven beyond all possible doubt to be the famed Egyptian queen, including ours."

One of only three pieces of Ptolemaic sculpture like it in the world, the ROM's Head of Cleopatra also led to another revelation: it turns out that the practice of "copying" earlier statues was started by Cleopatra herself. Previously it was thought the practice began about 50 years later, during the Imperial Roman period. The Head of Cleopatra is on display in the ROM's Galleries of Africa: Egypt on level 3.

Iconic Cleopatra
March 19, 2009 This granite bust is most likely a representation of one of history's most famous women Cleopatra and is on display in the Galleries of Africa: Egypt. An iconic object in the ROM's collection, only three pieces of Ptolemaic sculpture like this exist in the world today.

-Description by the Royal Ontario Museum

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