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Blue glass intaglio with a portrait of Cleopatra VII

Intaglio with a portrait of Cleopatra VII 1st century BC


Length: 1.300 cm

GR 1923.4-1.676 (Gem 3085)

Greece and Rome

    Blue glass intaglio with a portrait of
    Cleopatra VII

    Hellenistic (Ptolemaic), 1st century BC

    'Lady of the Two Lands'

    Cleopatra was born in 69-68 BC. When Ptolemy XII Auletes (the 'flute-player') died in 51 BC, the 18-year-old Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy XIII, aged ten, were named as his successors. Following tradition, they were required to marry. As the seventh of her name (meaning 'her father's glory'), she became Cleopatra VII, and like earlier queens, she was titled 'Lady of the Two Lands', that is, Upper and Lower Egypt.

    This engraved glass gem, now very worn, could have been used as a seal, indicating an official or loyal individual's allegiance to Cleopatra.

    The portrait features are relatively clear and show a full face, with straight nose and a strong chin with a down-turned mouth. However, portrait features are often distorted when produced on such a small scale, and it is the hairstyle and broad royal diadem in particular which indicate that this representation is of Cleopatra VII. As can be expected, she presents herself as a Hellenistic Greek queen. The hair is tied back in a bun in the usual Greek manner, and the dress is also Greek in style, with folds of drapery clearly visible.

    However, remarkably, this Greek image is combined with the Egyptian royal symbol of a triple uraeus on her head. This feature usually occurs on Egyptian-style images of Cleopatra.

    H.B. Walters, Catalogue of the engraved gems (London, 1926)

    S. Walker and P. Higgs, Cleopatra of Egypt: from histo (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)


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