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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Banquet of Cleopatra

Key facts
Full title The Banquet of Cleopatra
Artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Artist dates 1696 - 1770
Date made 1740s
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 46.3 × 66.7 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Misses Rachel F. and Jean I. Alexander; entered the collection, 1972
Inventory number NG6409
Location Room 39
Collection Main Collection
The Banquet of Cleopatra
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Sat at a grand table, Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt, is about to dissolve one of her priceless pearls in a goblet of vinegar, showing her contempt for wealth to the Roman general Mark Antony, who, dressed in red, recoils in surprise. The moment is described by the Roman historian Pliny in his Natural History (Book IX). The tension in the scene is increased by the efforts of the servant in the bottom left to control a fine white horse, and the onlookers watching in suspense.

Tiepolo painted Cleopatra’s banquet several times, and this small painting may be an early oil sketch for his famous fresco in the Palazzo Labia in Venice, which he completed in around 1746. As a preliminary study, his style is much looser than in his finished works, but he still uses a delicacy of colour in Cleopatra’s cream dress, the architectural details in subtle pinks and stronger tones of the onlookers' clothing.

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