The artist would often feature prominent female figures from the past in her work, normally depicting them in scenes of strength and authority. She brought something different to the Italian Baroque, even though her style bore some resemblance to the work of Caravaggio and his many followers. Her content and style showed the alternative concerns and experiences of women within society and she received considerable support for her work.
Whilst residing today in Rome, where the artist also worked for a number of years, Artemisia is believed to have completed this piece in Naples, allowing us to date it to around the mid-1630s. She relocated several times around the country and by the end of her career was highly regarded in all of Rome, Naples, Venice and Florence.
Here we find Cleopatra lying on a bed, with her upper half supported by an orange cushion. Her lower half is covered by a carefully placed blue cloth, whilst her upper half is entirely exposed. Her eyes are shut, as she faces away from the viewer, with her hair hanging down behind.
Artemisia saturates her upper half with bring light, producing strong shadows around the layers of material on her waist. The composition is cut off on the near side by the bed sheets, whilst behind we find a number of maids who look on from the back of the room.
There is an atmosphere of sadness within this scene of Cleopatra, with the maid furthest in the distance appearing to be wiping away tears, just as her colleague unveils Cleopatra to them both. The artist then adorns the painting with further details, with various objects dotted around the room.
Cleopatra herself looks exposed and vulnerable within this depiction. In other examples from the artist's career, she would promote the strength of women but in this case the atmosphere is one of sadness and desperation - see examples such as Judith Slaying Holofernes (Naples) and Judith Slaying Holofernes (Florence) to understand this contrast.
Size and Medium
This depiction of Cleopatra was completed in around 1633-1635, and was produced using oil on canvas. The artwork is 175.5cm wide, and 117cm tall. It resides today within a private collection in Rome, Italy, where the artist worked for a period of her career.
For a long time this painting was actually attributed to Massimo Stanzione, though it must be remembered that many of Artemisia's paintings were deliberately attributed to male artists in order to boost their value. Many of these errors have since been corrected, as with this work.
Gentileschi's Cleopatra Portraits
It is worth comparing the artist's different approaches to the same topic, that of Cleopatra. As such, we have included the other two versions here, and they have been named by location in order to make it easier to distinguish between them - giving us Cleopatra (Milan) and Cleopatra (Ferrara). Artemisia would sometimes work to commission, and on other occasions she would produce work from her own mind, with the intention of later finding a buyer.
See below for a larger image of the original work, allowing you to appreciate more of the detail of Cleopatra added by the artist. Her oeuvre remains fluid, due to the misattribution of a number of paintings related to her, and her circle, over the preceding centuries.