This memorable piece features Cleopatra staring with a powerful gaze at an asp, which would later bite her and ultimately kill her. There is a theme of beauty and ugliness within this piece, with Cleopatra and the peasant representing the two opposing sides. She is dressed beautifully, with dark features and a stunning complexion. Her jewellery is decorative and beautifully designed, with headwear, bracelets and also elements attached to her clothing. Delacroix was someone who adored historical artworks, be it based on real life events from previous centuries or from passages of novels or poetry. He would research clothing and related items in great detail in order to make his work as accurate as possible.
The legend will explain this composition, in that Cleopatra requests the creature due to the death of her lover, Marc Antony, leaving her desperate and suicidal. It is the typical sense of drama and tragedy that would perfectly appeal to this artist. The tones of red used in this painting are typical of the artist, but most believe their inclusion here is to symbolise anger and also lust for her missing lover. Naturally, the creature represents negative influences, such as evil and sin, with little subtlety found in this artwork. This was a true tragedy in the sense that her power was also waining, as her empire crumbled, on top of her own lover being lost.
This painting is believed to be under the ownership of the Ackland Art Museum, an important but lesser known art institution in North Carolina, USA. They possess around 17,000 items in total, though clearly just a small selection will ever be on display at any one time. There is a particularly impressive array of asian art and antiquities as well as good coverage of traditional European art from the Renaissance up to the Romanticist era. Orphan Girl at the Cemetery would perhaps be the most well known Delacroix painting within their collection and you will also find Young Girl with a Mandolin by Jean-Francois Millet, Landscape with Cows by John Constable, Roe Deer in the Snow by Gustave Courbet and The Virgin and Child with the Infant St John the Baptist by Agnolo Bronzino.