The Banquet of Cleopatra

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Jan de Bray, using his own family, including himself, as models, Royal Collection, 1652

The Banquet of Cleopatra is the title of several works showing the culmination of a wager between Cleopatra and Mark Antony as to which one could provide the most expensive feast. As recounted in Pliny the Elder's Natural History she wins the wager: after Mark Antony's feast, Cleopatra drops a rare and precious pearl from her earring into a cup of vinegar and drinks it once the pearl has dissolved.[1] The third person at the table is Lucius Munatius Plancus, at the time Antony's ally, who was to decide the winner of the wager.[2]

Most notable is the treatment by Tiepolo, though the subject was also painted by various artists, especially in Italian palace decoration and in Dutch Golden Age painting and Flemish Baroque painting, with a version by Jacob Jordaens (1653, Hermitage Museum); one by Gérard de Lairesse (late 1670s, Rijksmuseum); two versions by Jan de Bray, using his own family, including himself, as models (Royal Collection, 1652, and Currier Museum of Art, New Hampshire, 1669). In between the two versions most of those depicted had died in an outbreak of plague, making the later version largely a memorial portrait.[3] Other artists included Gerard Hoet, who painted three versions of the subject in the early 18th century (two are in the Getty Center and Bayreuth, Germany).[4]

In both the Italian and northern traditions the subject fitted well into existing genres showing lavish dining, with the added attraction of making a more prestigious history painting with an impeccable and exotic classical origin. It often formed part of cycles on Antony and Cleopatra with other subjects including the Meeting of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, the Death of Cleopatra, and sometimes her meetings with Julius Caesar and Octavian.


  1. ^ Ullman B.L., "Cleopatra's Pearls", web reprint of article from The Classical Journal, Vol. 52, No. 5 (Feb. 1957), 193‑201
  2. ^ Christiansen, 152
  3. ^ Christopher Lloyd, Enchanting the Eye, Dutch Paintings of the Golden Age, pp. 49–52, Royal Collection Publications, 2004, ISBN 1-902163-90-7.
  4. ^ "The Banquet of Cleopatra", J Paul Getty Museum