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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

William Etty’s Art

"The Triumph of Cleopatra" by William Etty

“The Triumph of Cleopatra” by William Etty

“The Triumph of Cleopatra” by William Etty depicts a scene in which the Queen of Egypt, travels to Tarsus in Cilicia aboard a magnificently decorated ship to cement an alliance with the Roman general Mark Antony. Etty created a cramped and crowded composition with people in various states of undress, gathering on the bank to greet the ship’s arrival.

The Triumph of Cleopatra is based loosely on Plutarch’s Life of Antony as repeated in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra:

“..  her barge .. was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver, which kept stroke in rowing after the sound of the music of flutes, … and such other instruments as they played upon in the barge. .. she was laid under a pavilion of cloth of gold of tissue, apparelled and attired like the goddess Venus …  pretty fair boys apparelled as painters do set forth god Cupid, with little fans in their hands, with the which they fanned wind upon her. Her ladies and gentlewomen also, the fairest of them were apparelled like the nymphs Nereides and like the Graces, some steering the helm, others tending the tackle and ropes of the barge, out of which there came a wonderful passing sweet savour of perfumes, that perfumed the wharf’s side, pestered with innumerable multitudes of people.”
— Plutarch, Life of Anthony

The painting was an immediate success, making Etty famous almost overnight. Buoyed by its reception, Etty devoted much of the next decade to create further history paintings containing nude figures. He became renowned for his combination of nudity and moral messages.

William Etty

William Etty was best known for his history paintings containing nude figures. He was the first significant British painter of nudes and still life. Etty earned respect at the Royal Academy of Arts for his ability to paint realistic flesh tones. As a shy man, Etty rarely socialised and never married, and while he was Methodist, he was also deeply attached to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Triumph of Cleopatra

  • Title:                  The Triumph of Cleopatra
  • Also known as:  Cleopatra’s Arrival in Cilicia and The Arrival of Cleopatra in Cilicia
  • Artist:                William Etty
  • Medium:           Oil on canvas
  • Date:                 1821
  • Dimensions:      Height: 106.5 cm (41.9 ″); Width: 132.5 cm (52.1 ″)
  • Museum:           Lady Lever Art Gallery

William Etty

A Tour of the Tate Britain

Tour of the Museums in the United Kingdom

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“Celerity is never more admired than by the negligent.”
– Cleopatra

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Photo Credit: William Etty [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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