The Suicide of Cleopatra

Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian, 1591-1666)
c. 1621
Oil on canvas 
46 x 36-3/4 in. (116.8 x 93.3 cm) 
Credit Line:
The Norton Simon Foundation 
Accession Number:
© The Norton Simon Foundation 
On View

Guercino gained the attention of influential patrons with his vigorous naturalism, flickering light effects, and grace of expression. He was in Rome during the brief pontificate of Gregory XV (1621-23), and there produced a number of important works, including "The Suicide of Cleopatra."

The tragic stories of the queens and heroines of antiquity were popular with Baroque painters, because they contained equal measures of drama, pathos and eroticism. From this remarkable history, Guercino focused on the single, tense moment when Cleopatra, having taken the asp from the basket of figs, is about to raise it to her breast where it will deliver the fatal bite. The dynamic chiaroscuro, supple modelling, and unusual color harmonies give his work its passionate appeal.


Thomas Worsley, Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire, by inheritance in 1778 to;
Edward Worsley, Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire, by inheritance in 1830 to;
William Worsley, 1st Bart., Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire, by inheritance in 1879 to;
William Cayley Worsley, 2nd Bart., Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire, by inheritance in 1897 to;
William Henry Arthington Worsley, 3rd Bart., Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire, by inheritance in 1936 to;
William Arthington Worsley, 4th Bart., Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire, through at least 1964.
Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, by 1968, sold 1973 to;
The Norton Simon Foundation.

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