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Basin with Scenes from the Life of Cleopatra
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Perhaps modeled by Francesco Fanelli, sculptor; after a sketch by Bernardo Strozzi, painter
Italian, Genoa, 1620 - 1625
Silver
Diam.: 29 3/4 in.
85.DG.81

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This large and elaborately molded silver basin depicts episodes from the story of Cleopatra, the legendary queen of Egypt, and the Roman leader, Marc Antony. Perhaps drawing from Plutarch's history, the artist frames the climactic event of Cleopatra committing suicide in the center, within a circular frieze of the Battle of Actium. The four oval cartouches on the rim represent important events related to Antony: at the top, Antony meets Octavian and Lepidus on an island in the river Lavinus to form the Triumvirate; on the left, Antony first sees Cleopatra when she arrives on an impressive barge on the river Cydnus; on the bottom, a banquet; and on the right, Antony kills himself.

Although the basin's design derives from a sketch by Genoese artist Bernardo Strozzi, the high relief of the figures, some of whom are modeled almost in the round, the Mannerist turbulence of the battle scene, and the use of depth and perspective indicate the work of a northern European artist, perhaps one from Flanders. The detail and delicacy of the silverwork of this basin suggest that it was ceremonial rather than functional; it was probably exhibited on a buffet on the most festive occasions.

Detail Views

Horses in Battle of Actium
Horses in Battle of Actium

Central medallion
Central medallion

Octavian in Battle of Actium
Octavian in Battle of Actium

Putti on rim
Putti on rim