Cleopatra Artemisia Gentileschi Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Cleopatra is an oil painting done by Artemisia Gentileschi. It is thought to have been painted between 1612 and 1620. The original painting is in the hands of Fondazione Cavallini-Sgarbi collection in Ferrara.

The painting is derived from the Greek myth of Danae, where a young woman was confined to her bedroom by her father, who happens to be King Acrisius of Argo. The confinement was a ploy by the father to prevent her from ever getting pregnant. He did so to prevent an oracle that had predicted that the young woman would bear a son who would be the cause of the king’s death. As the myth goes, the king of gods in Greek, Zeus, succeeded in impregnating her by transforming into a shower of gold. It is the moment after impregnation that is depicted in the image.

Many historians have come up with various explanations for the image. One group believes the artists wanted to show greed and love for material wealth in the part of Danae such that she fell for the king of gods. On the other hand, others believe that the clenched hands and provocative position that she is lying means that Danae is enjoying her sexual union with Zeus, who, by being a god, cannot be seen in the image. On the other hand, a group of historians believes that Zeus forced himself into the lady, and by putting her legs together, Danae is resisting a sexual violation by the god. The last explanation is the most probable, owing to the earlier works by the same artist. However, all historians agree that the woman looks innocent. Therefore, both the sexual act, along with the confinement, was not of her choosing.

Artemisia Gentileschi used the Baroque style of art to create Cleopatra. This style of art was characterised with drama, rich use of colours, detailed images, intense application of shadows and light. Using these effects, the artist could show that the subject is in a room or lying on a surface, while at the same time, shows the intricate features of her body and emotions. The use of white and velvety red shows that she came from a rich family. Overall, Cleopatra tells more than one story in line with Greek mythology. While it has some sad connotations, it could be used to show the plight of women in the era. Later paintings by the same artist highlighted problems women faced and their inability to make independent decisions in society. It was a silent fight for women’s rights.