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Simon de Mailly (de Châlons), Cleopatra

Key facts
Full title Cleopatra
Artist Simon de Mailly (de Châlons)
Artist dates active 1532; died 1561/2
Date made possibly 1540s
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 46 × 45.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Maurice Woolff Jacobson, 1943; entered the collection, 1947
Inventory number NG5762
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Simon de Mailly (de Châlons)

A naked woman reclines on a luxurious bed, a small pink snake wriggling through her fingers. This is Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, encouraging an asp to bite and poison her – according to some accounts, the cause of her death. Famous for her beauty and her love affairs with the Roman generals Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, she died in 30 BC after the defeat of her and Mark Antony’s forces by Octavian, the future Roman emperor.

Working out who made this painting is made difficult by the fact that the artist was a poor draughtsman and an incompetent painter, but seems to have been copying the work of a more skilful and imaginative artist. There is a strong stylistic resemblance between this painting and pictures by Simon de Mailly, who is known for creating pastiches based on paintings by better artists. The original composition may have been devised by one of Raphael’s assistants.

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