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Title The Death of Cleopatra
Collection Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
Artist Gennari, Benedetto, II (Italian painter, 1633-1715)
Previously attributed to after Guercino (Italian painter and draftsman, 1591-1666)
Previously attributed to Gennari, Benedetto, II (Italian painter, 1633-1715)
Previously attributed to Guercino (Italian painter and draftsman, 1591-1666)
Previously attributed to Italian (Bolognese) School
Date 1686 (dated)
Description A very fine painting in which Cleopatra is depicted naked, slightly reclining on a sumptuous bed which is overhung with luxurious red curtains and draped in silk sheets. She supports herself with her right hand and with her left hand she puts the asp to her breast, which begins to bleed. Her face is averted, her eyes are half-closed. Her dark hair is held up with strings of pearls.
Current Accession Number BATVG:P:1903.1
Former Accession Number A57
Subject mythology (Cleopatra); history (Cleopatra)
Measurements 129.5 x 101.2 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Given by Dr Charles Coates M.D. 1903.
Provenance Presented by the artist to Francis Gwyn M.P. of Forde Abbey 1686; by descent through the Gwyn (Gwynne) family to Mr John Franceis [sic] Gwyn of Forde Abbey, by 1846; sold via Messrs English & Son of Bath, 26 October 1846; acquired by Mr James T Rainey, picture dealer, Southgate Street, Bath, 1846 (?); acquired by Dr Charles Coates, 1846(?); given by Dr Charles Coates to Victoria Art Gallery, 1903.
Principal Exhibitions Bath Graphic Society, 1885 (?).
Publications Wright, C., Old Master Paintings in Britain: An Index of Continental Old Master Paintings executed before c.1800 in Public Collections in the United Kingdom, London, 1976, p. 106 (as Italian School (Bolognese) 18th century, copy?); Sloman, S., Victoria Art Gallery: Concise Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings, Bath, 1991, p. 11 (as Bolognese School, after Guercino); Steer, S., 'The early history of Benedetto Gennari's 'Death of Cleopatra' at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath,' The Burlington Magazine, July 2007, pp. 485-487, pl.34.
Notes

Dealer's label on back, manuscript: 'The Oil Painting of Cleopatra was purchased at the Sale of the / Effects of the late Gwynne Esquire at Forde Abbey, Dorsetshire, / On the 26th day of October 1846 / The Painting was fixed in a panel in the Dining room over the sideboard and is an original painting by “Guercino” / The Auctioneer (Mr English, of Bath) stated at the Sale that Mr Gwynne had been offered One thousand pounds for the Picture and refused it / James T Rainey / Southgate St / Bath'.

The work is identifiable with one in the artist's list ‘Nota autografa di Benedetto Gennari dei quadri eseguiti a Londra dal 1674 al 1688' ('A note in the hand of Benedetto Gennari on the pictures he carried out in London 1674-1688'). It is ‘117. Un quadro meza figura d'una Cleopatra in atto di sentire il dolore del morso velenoso del serpe e di questo ne feci presente a Mister Guin [sic] oficiale [sic] nella tesoreria'. ('no. 117. A half-length picture of Cleopatra who feels the pain of the serpent's venomous bite, and this I presented to Mister Guin, Treasury official') (transcribed in P. Bagni Benedetto Gennari e la Bottega del Guercino, Nuova Alfa, 1986, p. 159). From its position in the list, it seems that the picture was painted in 1686. ‘Mr Guin' was almost certainly Francis Gwyn (c.1648-1734), a leading politician and public official; in 1685 Gwyn was appointed co-secretary to the Treasury. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the artist presented the picture to Gwyn in order to assist his claim to a generous annual stipend which had been promised by the late Charles II, but which was not forthcoming (two further works in the list were painted for other Treasury officials, apparently to the same end). The naked Cleopatra was no doubt to the taste of Gwyn, who had a reputation as a womaniser before he settled to married life. For Francis Gwyn, see The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, XXIV, pp. 356-58.

In c. 1700 Gywn acquired Forde Abbey, which is the provenance of the Bath painting. An old label found on the back of the picture (see below) identifies it as having come from the Forde Abbey collection, most of which is believed to have been accumulated by Francis Gywn. According to the label, the painting appeared in the 1846 sale which took place following the death of the last Gwyn descendent. The painting at Victoria Art Gallery is closely related to Gennari's Death of Cleopatra at the Yale Centre for British Art of c. 1674-75, which was probably that painted for Charles II.

Dr Charles Coates resided at The Circus, Bath. He also donated another picture to the gallery. He may have acquired both works via James T. Rainey, a local picture dealer.

Rights Owner Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
Author Dr Susan Steer

 

 

 

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