Friday, December 23, 2011

Caesar and Cleopatra

Caesar and Cleopatra Acrylic on Museum Board on Panel, 22 x 28 inches, Dec, 2011

I have long done portraits of historical figures, but lately I have been exploring the idea of doing double portraits, especially of romantically-linked couples famous in history.  I thought I'd start with Caesar and Cleopatra.  Although my work is more naive and stylistic, than realistic,  I aspired to depict them as they really looked than how they have been portrayed in art and in the movies.  -- There are several presumed busts of Gaius Julius Caesar and I referred to them, but it's hard to believe they portray the same man.  We do know that Caesar, at least in middle age, was partly bald; he often wore a laurel wreath to hide the fact.  I wanted to catch him and Cleopatra at an informal moment, he reading a scrolled book and she trying to attract his attention and interest.  The costumes, with which I took only a few liberties, would be, for them somewhat casual.  Cleopatra, although she sometimes dressed as the Egyptian goddess Isis for formal occasions, would have dressed in Grecian attire most of the time.  It is important to point out that the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt, who ruled the country since its conquest by Alexander almost three centuries earlier, were Greek, or, more precisely, Macedonian.  Their capital, Alexandria, a Mediterranean port, was of the Hellenistic world, and the Ptolemies only made a few concessions to the native culture, such as a token worship of Egyptian gods and an adaptation of the royal custom of incestuous marriages.   There is no evidence that Cleopatra was of anything but Macedonian blood.  The ancient Greeks, even more so the Macedonians, were fair, much more so than modern Greeks, who, in fact, are mostly admixtures of the Avars, Slavs, Turks, Albanians, etc. (Although don't point this out to the Greeks, who cling to a discredited myth of ethnic purity.)  The suggestion that Cleopatra, because she is "African" could be black is quite laughable.  There are no contemporary depictions of the lady, save for her profile on a coin which highlights a fairly prominent Greek nose.  It is known that the color of her hair was a golden red and that in later years she used henna to accentuate its redness.  The hair style depicted should be fairly accurate.  Sorry, no black hair with bangs.  If she ever wore a classic Egyptian hair style it would have been a wig for her Isis costume.   In other words, Cleopatra is practically nothing like the film depictions, Theda Bara (too bad her film is lost -- those costumes!), Claudette Colbert (not far off the mark, I think, in her portrayal), Vivien Leigh (looked great, but a bit too much petulant schoolgirl in her performance), Rhonda Fleming (why didn't they keep her hair red?), Elizabeth Taylor (less said about that film the better), Pascale Petit (delightful portrayal of pre-Caesar Cleo in Una Regina per Cesare), or Amanda Barrie (hilarious comedy turn in Carry on Cleo), nor even the disappointingly inaccurate re-enactors you see on History Channel docs. --- I feel tempted to paint an older Cleopatra with Mark Anthony, (an accurate MA, not like the ones you see in the movies.)

See my website at
If you like my artwork you may friend me on Facebook

No comments:

Post a Comment