Copyright 2018 Simon Brooks

This painting is entitled 'The banquet of Cleopatra', and was painted by Italian artist Giambattista Tiepolo in 1743.

It depicts part of the popular story of the Roman consul, Mark Antony (83-30 BC), and his romantic relationship with the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra (69-30 BC), which was a popular subject for artists in the eighteenth century.

The episode represented in the painting is drawn from the Roman historian Pliny's Natural History (written in AD 77). Here, Pliny recounted the tale of a famous contest between Antony and Cleopatra. In this contest, Cleopatra wagered that she could stage a feast even more lavish than the legendary and sumptuous feasts put on by Antony. 

In the painting, we witness the dramatic moment just before Cleopatra wins the bet. Sitting opposite a still scornful Mark Antony, she wins the wager with her trump card. She holds in her hand one of a pair of priceless pearl earrings she has just removed from her ear, and is about to drop it into a glass of vinegar. According to Pliny, the pearl dissolves in the vinegar, and once Cleopatra drinks it, Mark Antony loses his bet!

  • When you look at this painting, who or what stands out and why?

  • How do the colours used contribute to the drama of the occasion?

  • To what extent is Tiepolo's work influenced by the seventeenth-century Baroque style?

  • In what ways has the artist directed our eye to the focal point of the painting, the vanishing point above Cleopatra's glass?

  • What mood is created by the facial expressions and body language of the people depicted in the painting?

  • What do we know about Cleopatra? How do you think the Egyptian queen should have been pictured? Why might Tiepolo have depicted her as a Venetian aristocrat?