Quite often did Jean-Léon Gérôme’s art influence how certain historical events were thought about by the general public, and this piece is a strong example of that trend. Finished circa 1866, this massive oil on canvas, measuring over six feet in height and three in width, is thought to have been originally painted on silk and designed as a screen that would divide in two the salon of La Païva, the famous French courtesan who commissioned it.
Upon completion, the courtesan would have disliked the finished work, noting it had been too expensive, so the artist added canvas to the back of the painting to provide extra strength. He then sold it to Adolphe Goupil, his father-in-law and a successful art merchant in Paris, who would later produce numerous prints of the piece, making it well-known by the general public. Now in possession of a private collector, it was last exhibited in a loan to the Toledo Museum of Art, in Ohio.
It portrays a famous moment in the biography of Gaius Julius Caesar present in Plutarch’s Parallel Lives where Cleopatra, exiled from Egypt from her brother and husband Ptolemy XIII, learns that Julius Caesar had established martial law in her former palace and decides to return to Egypt. Fearing assassination on the way to meet the Roman, Cleopatra would allegedly have ordered her servant Apollodorus to smuggle her into the palace.
Desiring to go unnoticed by guards and prying eyes, the Queen of the Nile would have been wrapped in thick fabric, which would be taken to Caesar as a tribute. Interestingly, the idea that Cleopatra was wrapped in a carpet derives in fact from a faulty translation of the original text, which describes something akin to a duffle bag instead, but in a way that by the 19th century would mean carpet in the Greek of the time. Regardless, it was the faulty translation that reached Gérôme and, through his art, general knowledge, influencing depictions of the scene in theatre and film.
In his version of the story, Gérôme portrays a seductive young Cleopatra being unraveled from her ruse by the dutiful servant in front of a surprised Caesar, who interrupts his work with a raised hand in astonishment. The scene foreshadows the long romantic and political affair between them, which deeply affected the whole Mediterranean Sea.
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If you have any request to alter your reproduction of Caesar and Cleopatra, you must email us after placing your order and we'll have an artist contact you. If you have another image of Caesar and Cleopatra that you would like the artist to work from, please include it as an attachment. Otherwise, we will reproduce the above image for you exactly as it is.
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