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“Cleopatra” | Aristede Petrilli

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Italian, 1868-1930

"Bust of Cleopatra"

Carved and polychromed marble | signed verso "Gall. Prof. APetrilli Firenze

Item # 202KIP03F 

A very powerful bust capturing the final moments of Cleopatra's life as she committed suicide by allowing an Egyptian cobra to introduce its deadly bite. This moment was the culmination of a failed alliance with her husband Mark Antony against Octavian and the war with the Roman Republic. After fleeing to Egypt with Octavian's forces following and taking several key cities, Cleopatra resigned herself to her tomb where she was surrounded by her vast treasure, sending word to Marc Antony that she died by suicide. Upon receiving her message, Marc Antony killed himself by falling on his own sword after his servant refused to take his life for him. However, Cleopatra was still alive and was captured in her tomb before she could set herself and the tomb on fire. Brought before Octavian, she was kept under strict guard to prevent death so that Octavian could parade her as a prisoner through the streets of Rome. The details surrounding her actual suicide are only surmised with several theories on how the poison was administered, whether by a sharp hollow implement, a topical poison or by snake bite. But the resulting death effectively ended the war with the Roman Republic and she was allowed to be buried with Marc Antony.

Petrilli captures the complexity of this tragic moment noteworthy expressiveness. Her expression remains defiant and fearless, showing her brow tense from pain as the asp surrounding her wrist clasps onto her flesh. Her garment falls from her shoulders revealing a scarab shoulder cuff and matching necklace, her hair pulled back beneath a tiara incised with a spread-winged Phoenix surmounted by a bird’s beak.  The sculpture is signed along the back of her shoulders "Gall… Prof. APetrilli Firenze” in his standard script.  She is raised over a stop-fluted base with the same Phoenix wings in raised relief over the block lettering of her name over a beveled bronze rim.

This is the second time our gallery has had the opportunity to represent this bust, the first with the beak absent and all polychroming worn away. The present example is an extraordinarily well-preserved model with a translucent surface of richly patinated marble highlighted by the complex polychrome detailing of the necklace, asp, shoulder cuff and tiara.


  • "Nuovo Dizionario degli Scultori Italiani", A. Panzetta, Turin, 2003, vol. 2, p. 690

Open market sales:

  • Christies, London, 3 November 1994, Sale 5275, lot 288; 25 3/4” H sculpture of Cleopatra signed "Gall prof. A Petrilli Firenze”, marble; restorations
  • Sotheby’s, London, 11 July 2018, lot 37; 27 1/8” H sculpture of Cleopatra signed “Call - Prof. APetrilli Firenze”, partially polychromed marble, integral marble base 

Measurements:  26 H x 20 W x 7 3/8 D [base]

Condition Report:
Wear and verdigris throughout the polychroming; minor edge wear along the lower edge of the garment, chips along the edges of the base, old losses to the back corners of the base; discolored and beautifully patinated marble surface.