Cleopatra Presented with the Head and Limbs of Her Own Child
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Boucicaut Master
French, Paris, about 1415
Tempera colors, gold leaf, and gold paint on parchment
16 9/16 x 11 5/8 in.
MS. 63, FOL. 168V

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Though the miniature's courtly elegance partly masks the horror of the narrative, Ptolemy Euergetes, king of Egypt, committed a horrendous act of vengeance against his queen, Cleopatra. After the death of his brother, Ptolemy married Cleopatra, his brother's widow. To avoid sharing power with her son, he had the child, who was both his nephew and stepson, murdered.

The severed head and limbs in the image, however, belong not to this infant but to a second unfortunate child, also a victim of Ptolemy's wrath. Hearing of the king's crime against his wife's son, the people deposed him and selected Cleopatra as their ruler. In retaliation, Ptolemy had his own son, also born of Cleopatra, murdered and sent the child's severed head and limbs to her during a banquet.