Today’s Art for the Month of June selection is French painter Eugene Ernest Hillemacher’s ‘The Dying Anthony is Brought to Cleopatra.’
Viewing this piece, we already know the fate of Anthony, and also what will soon become of his lover Cleopatra. What draws me to this painting is how effectively Hillemacher conveys the urgency of the moment as the Egyptian servants and Romans under Anthony’s command work to deliver the dying consul to the pharaoh. If you look closely even Cleopatra herself appears to be helping as she clutches one of the ropes while lamenting the tragedy below. These figures are represented in a dramatic—almost theatrical—manner that reminds me of the late work of the Baroque painter Caravaggio. Furthermore, the way Anthony’s body is positioned, hoisted upward with his arms outreached, might be interpreted as his spirit ascending from this worldly plane.
The choice of a vertical composition complements the action within the scene, allowing our two key subjects to dominate our attention. I also note how the white sheet or robe is seen draped down onto the ground, as if his blood were pooling from a fatal wound.
Other details which catch my eye include the various hieroglyphics and motifs seen throughout the building wall and the obelisk seen in the background, all of which provide the necessary backdrop for this historical scene.