Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Version at BMCR home site
Bernard Andreae, Karin Rhein, Kleopatra und die Caesaren. Katalog einer Ausstellung des Bucerius Kunst Forums, Hamburg, 28. Oktober 2006 bis 4. Februar 2007. München: Hirmer Verlag, 2006. Pp. 262; ills. ISBN 987-3-7774-3245-8. $42.00.
Reviewed by Miguel John Versluys, Leiden University

Yet another Cleopatra book? Yes, and a useful one it is. First of all because this exhibition catalogue presents new archaeological evidence--adding relevant material to the 2001 British Museum exhibition 'Cleopatra of Egypt. From history to myth'--and secondly because this evidence is evaluated in discussion. The beautifully produced volume is therefore a worthwhile contribution to the subject, not only to the ever growing field of Cleopatra studies but also to the study of the late Republic and early Empire more in general.

The main subject of the book is the well-known Esquiline Venus, a marble statue dating to the middle of the first century AD, found in Rome in 1874 in the grounds of the imperial horti Lamiani and now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori. In trying to account for several peculiarities of the statue--like the uraeus snake winding around the vase serving as its support--in 1955 the Italian scholar Licinio Glori proposed to identify this so-called Venus as Cleopatra. Important evidence for this argument were remarks by Appian (Bella Civilia 2, 102) and Cassius Dio (51, 22, 1-3) about a "beautiful statue" of Cleopatra in the temple for Venus put on display by Caesar. The statue from the horti Lamiani would be a Claudian copy of this original of about 46 BC, the year of the inauguration of the temple of Venus on the Forum Iulium. Glori's suggestion was only taken up by Paolo Moreno in 1994 and then followed by Bernard Andreae in his 'Schönheit des Betrachters' from 1998, while in general amongst archaeologists --it is my impression--it was not considered to be particularly convincing. With this exhibition and book Andreae wants the discussion to get out in the open, also on the basis of new evidence that has come up over the last years. This new (comparative) material concerns a statue of Isis from black granite discovered in recent underwater explorations in Alexandria and new finds and/or interpretations of other related material, like the supposed statue of Alexander the Great now in Frankfurt, the bronze boy from Cap d'Agde, a portrait bust of Mark Antony now in Haifa and busts from Octavian and Maecenas.

In the first and central essay, Andreae pleads his case to proof that 1. the statue of the Esquiline cannot be an ordinary Venus but must be interpreted as representing an individual, and that 2. Cleopatra must be this individual. Andreae combines stylistic analysis with a search for comparisons and relevant historical background; thus presenting a chain of different and (very) differing arguments. This approach has strengths as well as weaknesses: Andreae seems to have drawn in all arguments imaginable to favour his interpretation while in doing so he is in risk of building a house of cards at the same time.

In the second essay, Andreae (with contributions by C. Landwehr and J.-C. Grenier) extensively discusses a range of historical figures important for Cleopatra and her self- presentation. These include Alexander the Great--discussed on the basis of the disputed Alexander from Frankfurt--, several of her Ptolemaic predecessors, her children-- the bronze boy found in a ship wreck at Cap d'Agde is tentatively interpreted as one of Cleopatra's children be it Caesarion or Alexander Helios-- and her Roman connections like Caesar, Octavian and Mark Antony. The essay combines historical background with the presentation of new interpretations of statues and busts; the latter might have profited from a somewhat more extensive treatment to be really convincing.

Next follow three essays on representations of Cleopatra by Guy Weill Goudchaux. The first of those presents the 'Kleopatra Nahmann', a bust from a private collection that is argued to represent Cleopatra. The second deals with images of Cleopatra on coins. The third is titled 'Die Venus vom Esquilin ist nicht Kleopatra' and presents several short but succinct arguments contra the interpretation of Andreae.

The essays in the subsequent part of the book deal with specific aspects of Cleopatra and with her Nachleben. Dorothee Gall discusses the image of Cleopatra in literature. Heinz Heinen treats the political background of the personal relations between Cleopatra and several Roman imperatores. François Queyrel focuses on the development of the iconography of Cleopatra. In an interesting contribution Claude Rolley discusses the children of Cleopatra--four in total: one by Caesar and three by Mark Antony--and suggests seeing the bronze statues of a boy in Armenian attire in Baltimore and New York as Alexander Helios. On the identification of the bronze boy from Cap d'Agde as one of Cleopatra's children--as proposed earlier in the book by others--he is somewhat reluctant: it is possible that we are dealing with Caesarion here, but such identification is very difficult to prove. Günter Grimm deals with the depiction of a crocodile, a woman and a large phallus on a terracotta lamp and argues convincingly--contra Donald M. Bailey in the 2001 Cleopatra catalogue--that this is unlikely to be a caricature of Cleopatra. Mosaic specialists will be grateful for the colour plate of the relatively unknown but remarkable Nilotic mosaic from Privernum (183). Susan Walker treats with the Portland Vase as a document of Augustan propaganda against Cleopatra. Moving on to perceptions of Cleopatra in later periods, Ernst Osterkamp first gives an overview of the image of Cleopatra in literary texts before a beautifully illustrated article by Karin Rhein provides an overview of Cleopatra in painting from the Middle Ages onwards. Her last example is Edward John Poynter's bathing girl from 1883 in which the naked woman is clearly modelled after the Esquiline Venus and suggestively put in an orientalising environment.

Is the Esquiline Venus really Cleopatra? It does not seem useful to add yet another opinion to the different voices of specialists that have been assembled in the book. But for the moment this reviewer was more convinced by the reservations of Weill Goudchaux than by the pleading of Andreae. Most important, however, is the fact that with this book Andreae indeed has brought the discussion out in the open and has--by giving ample attention to Cleopatra's Umwelt and by allowing a scholarly polyphony--added a worthwhile contribution to our study of the Queen of Kings.

As a final point it might be useful to shortly mention the two literary texts by Appian (Bella Civilia 2, 102) and Cassius Dio (51, 22, 1-3) talking about a statue of Cleopatra put on display by Caesar. When using the latter source, scholars do not always seem to realise that Dio in fact talks about Octavian Augustus here who has a statue of Cleopatra brought to Rome as a trophy (as rightly noted by Weill Goudchaux on p. 141, cf. Andreae on p. 41). Our only evidence for the supposed prototype from around 46 BC is therefore the one sentence Appian wrote down around 150 AD; he adds that the statue still was visible on the spot--"next to Venus", he says, without mentioning a temple--in his day.

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