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Painting Title Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl, called a Portrait of a Princess Orsini
Collection York Art Gallery
Artist Attributed to Italian School
Date Earliest about 1800
Date Latest about 1820
Description The sitter is depicted half-length, dressed in white dress and blue coat, dipping a pearl earring in a golden cup. The subject refers to the story told by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, that Cleopatra drank a pearl dissolved in vinegar as a bet with Mark Antony, concerning the highest possible value of the meal in a feast. She had said she herself would swallow ten million sesterces and then consumed one of the two largest pearls in the world, which she owned by descent from the kings of the East. Cleopatra VII Philopator (1st century BC), was the last active pharaoh of Ancient Egypt; she was famous for her beauty and became a mistress of Julius Caesar and later of Mark Antony. The sitter depicted as Cleopatra dissolving a pearl is shown as an extravagant, rich and powerful woman; it is probably a portrait of a lady of aristocratic background.
Current Accession Number YORAG : 1148
Subject portrait; history (Cleopatra); interior
Measurements 98.4 x 73.7 cm
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Given by Ms. H. Hornby and Mrs. C. Drummond 1968.
Provenance Henry Southern (17991853), Madrid or Lisbon, 1840s; given to his nephew Sir Edmund Grimani Hornby (18251896); by descent to Constance Drummond (née Hornby) and Hilda Hornby.
Publications York Art Gallery Catalogue - Catalogue of Paintings, Vol. III: English and European 19th and 20th centuries, The Reserve Collection, City of York Art Gallery, York, 1974, p. 116 as probably Italian c. 1800; Oil Paintings in Public Ownership. North Yorkshire, London, 2006, p. 299.
Notes Mrs. Drummond was a daughter of Sir Edmund Grimani Hornby (18251896), a leading British judge, the founder and Chief Judge of both the British Supreme Consular Court at Constantinople and British Supreme Court for China and Japan. He was a son of Thomas Hornby, whose step-brother, Henry Southern (1799-1853) worked as a member of the diplomatic staff in Spain from 1833; he lived in Madrid and Lisbon, and was visited by his nephew Edmund in the 1840s. As the paintig was transported from Spain in the 1840s, the canvas was probably rolled for the journey and restretched in London; the stretcher bears a stamp of 'Hogarth Printseller' with the address 5 Haymarket London. Joseph Hogarth, printseller, picture framemaker and mounter of drawings had his workshop at that address between 1845 and 1866.
Rights Owner York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Author Dr Magdalena Łanuszka



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