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Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-1734 Venice)
Property of a Private Collector
Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-1734 Venice)

The Death of Cleopatra

Details
Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-1734 Venice)
The Death of Cleopatra
oil on canvas
40 ¼ x 29 1/8 in. (102.3 x 74 cm.)
Provenance
with Jean-Luc Baroni, London, where acquired by the present owner.

Lot Essay

Sebastiano Ricci’s pivotal role in the development of north Italian painting has long been noted. He paved the way in the early eighteenth century with his assured touch and typically brilliant Venetian palette; as Michael Levey wrote, ‘Ricci’s importance as a forerunner was colossal’ (Painting in Eighteenth-century Venice, London, 1959, p. 22). Professionally, he established himself in quick time, and his personal life was not short of drama: he was imprisoned twice as a young man, once accused of the attempted murder of his wife, and then again when he left her and fled to Turin. These private travails did nothing to hinder his progression, however. He travelled widely in Italy and received key commissions from abroad, which led to his moving to England in 1712. He would stay some five years, famously completing a cycle of great pictures for Burlington House.

The Death of Cleopatra likely dates from relatively early in Ricci’s career, circa 1690. It still retains some of the dramatic chiaroscuro of his earliest works, but his palette had begun to brighten in response to the works he encountered among his Bolognese contemporaries. The soft flesh tones, the rich details and virtuoso brushwork are characteristic of Ricci’s style, all enhancing the sensuality of Cleopatra. Although this appears to be Ricci’s only treatment of the subject, Cleopatra was a popular figure during the Baroque and Rococo; patrons and artists were captivated by her story of romance, decadence and, ultimately, tragedy. She had a child with Caesar, became Mark Antony’s mistress and, according to Plutarch, committed suicide at the age of 39 by inducing an asp to bite her.

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