This drawing is a study for a fresco that decorated the ceiling of the reception room on the second floor of the Palazzo Vincenzo Imperiale at Campetto, Liguria (Fig. 1), but which was destroyed during World War II. Another subject from the life of Cleopatra was originally depicted nearby, in a fresco by Giovanni Battista Castello, il Bergamasco. The date 1560 is engraved on the doorframe at the entrance to the room, determining a post quem date for the execution of all the frescoes.
The composition of the present drawing, though unpublished, was known through two sheets which partially replicate it. One belonged to Tomàs Harris (L. Magnani, Luca Cambiaso, da Genova all' Escorial, Genoa, 1995, fig. 100), and another is in Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland (K. Andrews, Catalogue of Italian Drawings, London, 1968, D. 718): the latter drawing is smaller and cut down the left side. A third drawing is in Stockholm (see P. Bjurström, Italian Drawings. Drawings in Swedish Public Collections, III, Stockholm, 1979, no. 304, where it is incorrectly related to the ceiling of San Matteo, Genoa). The Stockholm drawing lays out the position of the group of figures in the background, at the far left of the composition.
After sketching the present drawing, Cambiaso executed a proper modello, twice the size of this sheet, which is today at Chapel Hill (Ackland Art Museum, inv. 79.66.1; J. Bober and P. Boccardo (eds.), Luca Cambiaso 1527-1585, exhib. cat. Austin and Genoa, 2006-7, no. 30) in which the artist subsequently modified many details such as the figures in the foreground, the statue in the niche and the landscape in the far background.
The drawing bears the stamp of J.-D. Lempereur (L. 1740). His posthumous sale of 1773 included a lot with two drawings by Cambiaso (2 June 1773, lot 258 : 'Deux compositions à la plume et lavés, dont une représente l'adoration des bergers').