Arsinoe or Cleopatra?
24 September, 2002 - 17 November, 2002
The unordinary exhibition introduces the specific techniques of Egyptological
research. Problems of attribution (determination of the age, style, technique,
school, etc., of a work of art) most often are ignored by the general
public, though both chronology and reconstruction of historical events
are based on attribution.
The Egyptians' attitude to portraying human individuality was different
from ours; they either ignored it or concealed it behind the style of
a particular age. If a monument is not inscribed, scholars have to attribute
it sometimes using minute iconographic and stylistic details. This is
exactly the problem with the sculpture showed in the exhibition. It represents
a striding woman with the left foot forward. She wears an ankle-long tight-fitting
dress and tripartite curled wig with three uraei (snakes) in the front;
the headdress (probably a solar disc between cow's horns) has been lost.
In her lowered right hand she holds the ankh, the hieroglyph of life,
in her slightly bent left hand, divided cornucopia full of fruit. The
uraei, ankh and crown show that a Queen is represented, while the subtle
plasticity and cornucopia derived from Hellenistic art suggest the age
of the Macedonian dynasty of Ptolemies (323-30 BC).
Nothing at all is known of the statue's provenance. Before it came to
the Hermitage in 1929, the stature had belonged to one of the Peterhof
palaces and had not been known to Egyptologists. When Irma A. Lapis, the
Hermitage custodian of late Egyptian art, published her research of the
statute in 1957, it became accessible to the academic world and provoked
a lively debate which has not so far subsided. The attribution suggested
by Irma A. Lapis was based on the characteristic form of the cornucopia,
for divided horns of plenty are specific for one member of the Egyptian
dynasty of Ptolemies, Queen Arsinoe II (ca. 316 - July 270 BC). The conclusion
of Irma A. Lapis was based on the sole iconographic detail and later Egyptologists
did not believe this sufficient.
During the 1990s, the statue was showed in a few international exhibitions,
so the problem of its attribution came to the fore again.
The major exhibition "Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth"
which was held in 2000-2002 in Rome, London and Chicago showed the present-day
state of research of Ptolemaic art. In the course of its preparation Sally-Ann
Ashton of the British Museum identified a group of uninscribed statutes
in the Egyptian style as portrayals of the renowned Cleopatra VII (69
- 30 BC). The group included the Hermitage statue showed in the exhibit.
The new attribution was based on two facts. First, Arsinoe II was always
depicted with two uraei (this iconographic detail is specific for this
Ptolemaic Queen) which may be explained by her joint rule with her brother
and husband Ptolemy II and special role in the affairs of the state which
distinguishes her from other Queens. On the contrary, three uraei are
specific for Cleopatra VII. Their use may have been an attempt to create
a distinguishing symbol for her.
Second, Cleopatra VII emulated Arsinoe II and loaned the attributes of
her predecessor. These included the divided cornucopia which may be seen
in her coins and other things.
Coins, intaglios and rings having relation to the age of Arsinoe II and
Cleopatra VII are showed alongside the statue. Tetradrachms and octodrachms
of Arsinoe II with her portraits minted after the Queen's death attest
to her enduring cult. An interesting coin is the tetradrachm with the
portraits of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Issue of such coins was meant
to legitimize Mark Antony as a ruler of Egypt equal to Cleopatra. Slaviya
Publishers published a full-color illustrated booklet for the exhibition
"Arsinoe or Cleopatra?" The introduction is written by the exhibition
curator Dr. Andrey O. Bolshakov.
Statue of Cleopatra VII
Intaglio with a representation of Isis and Horus
(Cleopatra VII and her son of Caesar Ptolemy XV Caesarion?)
Middle first century BC
Intaglio with a repersentation of Omphale
First century BC