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Benedetto Gennari, 1633–1715


between 1674 and 1675
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
49 x 41 1/2 inches (124.5 x 105.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
bed | bracelet (jewelry) | costume | curtains | historical subject | jewelry | nude | portrait | suicide | woman
Associated Places:
Africa | Egypt
Associated People:
Cleopatra VII Philopator (late 69 BC–30 BC), last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Bolognese by birth, Benedetto Gennari trained in the workshop of his uncle, the celebrated painter Guercino. In 1674, after some years in France taking commissions at the court of Louis XIV, he arrived in London and immediately found work at the English court. This is one of the earliest pictures Gennari painted for Charles II, who had a fondness for erotic mythological subject matter. Gennari captures the moment in which Cleopatra commits suicide, succumbing to the bite of the poisonous asp. As she rises from her bed, her vulnerable body is laid bare, and she gazes toward heaven in ecstasy. This painting was inherited from Charles II by his brother James II, which suggests that James’s consort, Mary of Modena (depicted opposite), had ample opportunity to gaze upon it, though she herself preferred to commission devotional pictures from Gennari for her chapel at Whitehall.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

In the early to mid-1670s, the itinerant artist Benedetto Gennari, a follower and Bolognese compatriot of Guercino, worked in Paris, then London. Having painted a similarly erotic Diana and Endymion on speculation for Cardinal Richelieu (who refused to purchase it), in September 1674 Gennari brought that picture to London and presented it to King Charles II. The gift prompted the kKing to commission this Cleopatra, or a painting nearly identical to it-a few other versions are known. Together the two paintings hung in the kKing's apartments. Cleopatra vanished from later royal inventories, and was therefore probably taken into exile in 1688 by Charles's younger brother, James II.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005

Recent Acquisitions - Summer 2005 (Yale Center for British Art, 2006-05-19 - 2006-08-14) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Prisco Bagni, Benedetto Gennari e la bottega del Guercino, Nuova Alfa Editoriale, Firenze, Italia, p. 147, NJ18 G28295 B35+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Rufus Bird, Charles II : art & power, Royal Collection Trust, London, p. 186, N6766 .C43 2017+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Brett Dolman, Beauty sex and power, a story of debauchery and decadent art at the late Stuart court, 1660-1714 , Scala : Historic Royal Palaces, London, 2012, pp. 50, 51, ND1314.3 .D65 2012 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Martina Droth, Britain in the world: Highlights from the Yale Center for British Art in honor of Amy Meyers, Yale University Press, New Haven, London, p. 28-31, N6761 .Y33 2019 (LC) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Dwight C. Miller, Benedetto Gennari's career at the courts of Charles II and James II and a newly discovered portrait of James II", Apollo, no. 251, London, Jan 1983, pp. 24-29, N1 A54+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Susan Steer, The early history of Benedetto Gennari's 'Death of Cleopatra" at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, Burlington Magazine, v. 149, no. 1252, Burlington Magazine, London, Jul 2007, pp. 485-487, N1 B87+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

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