The painting depicts nude Cleopatra lying on a red blanket and leaning over an elegant brocade pillow under a tree, arms raised behind her head. The snake which is wrapped around her arm like an ancient bracelet is biting her right breast.
In the foreground on the left you can see a crown and a scepter, alluding to her status as the queen of Egypt.
The scene represents Cleopatra’s suicide, which occurred in 30 B.C. According to Plutarch (Life of Antony) after Augustus defeated her and Antonius’ fleet, she decided to kill herself by being bitten by a poisonous snake.
The painting doesn’t follow the traditional tale that tells the suicide was assisted by Cleopatra’s maids in the Ptolemy mausoleum in Alexandria. She is depicted alone in a landscape with flowers, trees and hills in distance. There is no fruit basket where the maids had hidden the snake, although there are some figs on the ground.
The iconography is unusual and it reminds the sensual Venuses of the 16th century Venetian painting, or the Dying Cleopatra (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), attributed to Jan van Scorel, who was very active Nordic painter in Venice and Rome in the 16th century.
Cleopatra’s character is provocative and seductive in this painting, even at the moment of death. It recalls the nude Venus by Giorgione in Dresden, also depicted lying on the ground in an open landscape, and the works of Titian.
Marco Pino studied also other works for this iconography, especially the Hellenistic statue of the Vatican museums known as Ariadne, which in the 16th century was identified as Cleopatra and Michelangelo’s cartoon with Venus and Cupid, which were often copied afterwards by many artists such as Pontormo.
Marco Pino studied the works during his first stay in Rome (1544-1551) when he painted the frescoes of the Cleopatra hall in Vatican together with Daniele da Volterra. Clepatra’s pose in his painting is directly taken from the Hellenistic models he saw in Vatican. The erotic and sensual female figure has certainly taken influence from the works like Leda by Michelangelo and Danae by Titian.
From a stylistic point of view the painting represents the Tuscan school, taking inspiration from the works of Michelangelo, and the Venetian school, best represented by Titian, which pays a lot of attention to colors and the landscape.
You also see the influence of Pino’s master Domenico Beccafumi in the colors of the sky and large and rapid brushstrokes. The Mannerist culture is expressed in this elegant nude figure with slightly unnatural pose, her body in a forced twist. The features of Cleopatra’s face were typical for Pino, which he also represented in other paintings, often with a religious subject.
In the 1920s’ the painting was in Otto Lanz’s collection in Amsterdam. It remained in Netherlands for many decades. It was in Han Jungelin’s collection in Schipluiden in 1962 and then it was sold to antiques market. At some point the work was sold to a private collection in Trieste and then to antique gallery L’intrigo, before it was bought by Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena in 2005.
Marco Pino was born in Siena in 1521. At sixteen he was already in Domenico Beccafumi’s workshop where he had his artistic training and with whom he often collaborated. He assisted his famous works such as the Descent in Limbo (1536, Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale) the frescoes in the Siena Cathedral (1536-1538) and Madonna and Child with Saints (1536-1538) in the oratory of San Bernardino.
Beccafumi’s influence was significant for Pino’s artistic development and he never entirely abandoned the style he learnt from Beccafumi, who was one of the first brilliant Mannerists.
Between 1542 and 1544 he went to Rome, where he painted the Visitation in the church of Santo Spirito. The influence of Michelangelo’s monumental figures and Raphael was already evident in his works.
Under the guidance of Perino he painted the frescoes in Sala Paolina of Castel Sant’Angelo and a few years later, between 1548 and 1551 he worked with Daniele da Volterra and painted the frescoes in the chapel of Della Rovere in Trinità dei Monti.
He enrolled to Accademia di San Luca and worked on other important decorative works at Palazzo Farnese and Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne.
In 1552 he went to Naples and in 1557 he began to work in the abbey of Montecassino. He painted an altarpiece with Madonna and Child with Saints John and Andrew for the monastery of Santa Maria di Monte Albino (Nocera, church of San Bartolomeo) where you can see the influence of his Roman period, the works of Michelangelo, Perin del Vaga and Daniele da Volterra. The same year he painted the frescoes in different halls of the abbey of Montecassino, which were destroyed during the World War II.
He returned to Naples, where he continued to paint his works which were increasingly influenced by the Mannerist style. He mixed Roman and Tuscan styles and enriched his works by taking inspiration from new works, such as those of Polidoro da Caravaggio, which he saw in Naples.
In 1568 Pino returned to Rome. Between 1569 and 1570 he painted the Resurrection of Christ for the Oratory of the Banner, which recalls the paintings of Francesco Salviati as well as those of Taddeo Zuccari. During this period, he worked hard, and he was often helped by his workshop, especially in the execution of large altarpieces. He traveled between Rome and Naples for the next decade.
He died in Naples in 1583.
Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation was established on August 28, 1995 with the conferment of banking activity and it is the oldest bank in the world still operating.
The headquarters is in Palazzo Sansedoni of Piazza del Campo, Siena, and the main mission is to carry out philanthropic activities in cultural, artistic and environmental sectors.
The foundation owns and preserves two collections: the collection of Artworks and Malandrini collection of photographs. Both collections can be found on digital version online.
The artwork collection includes 57 pieces representing prestigious examples of Sienese art, some of which have been lost for centuries. A special committee of scholars and art historians was set up to identify the works of Sienese school between the 13th and 18th century. Among the artworks there are Segna di Bonaventura’s Madonna with Child Enthroned, St. Bartholomew, St. Ansanus and a Donor, Maestro dell’Osservanza’s Santa Lucia, Brescianino’s Madonna with Child and Little St. John, Ventura Salimbeni’s Santa Cecilia, Francesco Vanni’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Rutilio Manetti’s St. Jerome in Penitence and Bernardo Mei’s Holy Family with Magdalene.
The Malandri collection was named after the founder, photographer Ferruccio Malandrini, and it was established in 1975. The collection includes historical photographs from Siena territory, taken between 1853 and 1950. There are 135 units in the collection. The units consist of different themes, origins and technical and historical characteristics and in total they include 11,389 photographs.