Artist: William Wetmore Story (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1819–1895 Vallombrosa)
Date: 1858, carved 1869
Dimensions: 55 1/2 x 33 1/4 x 51 1/2 in. (141 x 84.5 x 130.8 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of John Taylor Johnston, 1888
Accession Number: 88.5a–d
Neoclassical sculptors often drew upon mythology, history, the Bible, and literature for their subject matter. "Cleopatra" exemplifies Story’s penchant for depicting famous—or infamous—personalities from history as they contemplate past deeds or forthcoming actions of cataclysmic significance. Here, Cleopatra (69–30 B.C.), the last Macedonian ruler of Egypt, meditates suicide; the asp curled around her left arm predicts her death from its venomous bite. Story rendered his figures on a monumental scale and paid meticulous attention to archaeological exactitude in their props and costumes. Cleopatra wears the "nemes," or royal headcloth, topped with the "uraeus," or cobra headdress.