Cleopatra Before Augustus
Angelica Kauffmann (Swiss, 1741-1807)
Oil on copper
Lent by the Spencer Museum, University of Kansas, gift of the University Women’s Club, 1956.0033
Neoclassical painter Angelica Kauffmann chose to represent one of the most famous queens of history subjugated before Octavian, later to become Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. According to ancient sources, rather than bear humiliation and captivity in Rome, the 39-year old Cleopatra took her own life. In contrast to the ancient sources, scholars have suggested the Romans were complicit in her death.
A number of Ptolemaic queens were worshiped as goddesses, including the famed Cleopatra VII, who was particularly identified with Isis. Her solo rule of Egypt, divine associations, and alleged powers of seduction, first aimed at Julius Caesar and followed by Mark Antony, made her particularly threatening to the Roman patriarchy. Though Octavian’s subjugation of Cleopatra vindicated Rome’s male authority, it also revealed its inherent fear of such a powerful woman. Ironically, Octavian’s conquest of Cleopatra would ultimately contribute to her immortality in the annals of history.
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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association