Jacopo de' Barbari, Cleopatra, a drawing and print

Italy, around AD 1508

This is the only authenticated drawing by the Venetian painter and printmaker Jacopo de' Barbari (about 1465-1516). A female nude sits in a rocky niche, her legs crossed. Her head, with a downcast expression on her face, is turned to the right. Behind her head to the right, a snake crawls out from the rock. The woman is the famous queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII, who committed suicide by means of an asp's venomous bite, after the death of her lover, Mark Antony. She killed herself rather than let herself be captured by the Romans.

Jacopo de' Barbari was one of the first Venetian engravers. The drawing, in pen and brown ink, has a few black chalk lines ruled across it, which enabled the artist transfer the composition to a copper plate for engraving. In the print, which is the reverse of the drawing, he used a great variety of lines, from simple parallel strokes to dense triple cross-hatching. Perhaps the most impressive of all Jacopo de' Barbari's prints is the large woodcut map of a bird's eye view of Venice. The British Museum's copy is framed in the entrance to the Department of Prints and Drawings.

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More information


A.E. Popham and P. Pouncey, Italian drawings in the Depa-5 (London, The British Museum Press, 1950)

J. Levenson, K. Oberhuber, and J. Sheehan, Early Italian engravings from (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)

M.A. Hind, Early Italian engraving (London, Quaritch for Knoedler, 1948)


Height: 204.000 mm
Width: 173.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1883-8-11-35 (drawing);PD 1854-6-28-127 (print)



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