Cleopatra has been dead for twenty centuries, but her name still resonates in the west. Her story has the status of a foundation myth. As such, artists of all periods have drawn on it in order to raise questions concerned with the world in which they found themselves living.This study chooses a number of key occasions from European history on which writers and painters re-imagined Cleopatra. In doing so Mary Hamer takes the reader on a pleasurable intellectual treasure hunt through the ages. In addition, by restoring these works to their original context – political, philosophical and aesthetic – the author opens up unexpected new readings of images and texts which had previously appeared to be self-explanatory.The purpose of this book is to raise questions about how these images of a dead Egyptian queen were read. Through careful analysis Hamer traces attempts to manipulate attitudes to women and power, women and sexuality and to desire itself. In the case of Tiepolo’s Cleopatra, for example, the Queen embodies the desire for knowledge; in post-Revolutionary France, she symbolises political freedom. In the new introductory essay we discover that Cleopatra’s role as a focus for cultural debate continues, and that, as previously, much is at stake: it is now the question of her race that is highly contested.
Mary Hamer is a Fellow of the DuBois Institute, Harvard. She has published widely on literary and cultural history including work on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Anthony Trollope and Cleopatra. She was involved in curating the British Museum’s exhibition on Cleopatra and has appeared on Woman’s Hour.
Mary Hamer has written a fascinating study of politics and desire, authority and sexuality, through the protean figure of Cleopatra.
An example of the best kind of research on a female figure whose resonance in myth/history carries a weight of baggage that needs feminist investigation.
Naomi Segal, University of London
The book is far stronger than a lot of recent competitors and is much more sensitively written.
Sally-Ann Ashton, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Signs of Cleopatra’s very rigorous engagement with art history and the Cleopatra icon makes it particularly useful for courses on art history, visual culture and women’s studies… Especially valuable are the coherent readings of visual images, supported by fantastic illustrations.