The Suicide of Cleopatra
c. 1621
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.


  • Artist Name: Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian, 1591-1666)
  • Title: The Suicide of Cleopatra
  • Date: c. 1621
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 46 x 36-3/4 in. (116.8 x 93.3 cm)
  • Credit Line: The Norton Simon Foundation
  • Accession Number: F.1973.30.P
  • Copyright: © The Norton Simon Foundation

Object Information

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.

Il Guercino

  • Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio, 1968-09 to 1968-11

England and the Seicento

  • London, Thomas Agnew and Sons, 1973-11 to 1973-12

[on loan]

  • Detroit Institute of Arts, 1974-04-04 to

Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna 1575-1725

  • J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008-12-16 to 2009-05-03

The Expressive Body: Memory, Devotion, Desire (1400-1750)

  • Norton Simon Museum, 2021-10-15 to 2022-03-07

Reinstallation of Galleries: Art History of the 17th and 18th Century Gains Fresh Dimension

  • Norton Simon Museum, 1993-09-02 to 1995-08-13
  • McCorquodale, Charles, The Connoisseur, pp.205-206
  • Crombie, T., Apollo, p. 390
  • Catalogue of the Pictures at Hovingham Hall, 1964, p. 15
  • Ebert-Schiffer, Sybille; Andrea Emiliani, and Erich Schleier, Guido Reni e l'Europa: Fama e Fortuna, 1988, fig. 92 p. 499
  • Doring, T., Mercury, 1988, fig. 10 p. 63
  • Salerno, L., I Dipinti del Guercino, 1988, nos. 79, 83
  • Garrard, Mary, Artemesia Gentileschi, 1989, fig. 215 p. 249
  • Masterpieces from the Norton Simon Museum, 1989, p. 42
  • Stone, D. M., Guercino: Catalogo completo dei dipinti, 1991, fig. 76 p. 98
  • Bohn, Babette, Renaissance Studies, 2002, p. 73
  • Ritschard, Claude, Cleopatra Mirrored in Western Art, 2004, fig. 2 p. 186
  • Captured Emotion: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575-1728, 2008, pl. 25 p. 73
  • Sgardi, Vittorio, Papetti, Stefano, Le stanze del cardinale: Caravaggio, Guido Reni, Guercino, Mattia Preti, 2009, p. 112
  • Campbell, Sara, Collector Without Walls: Norton Simon and His Hunt for the Best, 2010, cat. 987 p. 359
  • Renato Miracco, Italian Treasures in the U.S. An Itinerary of Art, 2014, p. #40
  • Gozzi, Fausto, Guercino – La luce del Barocco: Guercino – Svjetlo baroka, 2014, p. 94
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Additional Artwork by Artist

The Aldrovandi Dog Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) c. 1625

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