the banquet of cleopatra

Catherine Patchell posing with art at the National Gallery of Victoria (1956). Photograph by Bruno Benini.

Patchell is wearing Henry Haskin’s beaded ‘Gown of the Year' before The Banquet of Cleopatra (1743-44) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Tiepolo shows the dramatic moment at the end of Cleopatra’s repast when she wins the wager with Mark Anthony about a lavish feast with her trump card. Removing one of a pair of priceless pearl earrings, Cleopatra dissolves it in a glass of vinegar and drinks it.

Kitty Fisher as Cleopatra Dissolving the Pearl (1759). Joshua Reynolds (English, 1723-1792). Oil on canvas. English Heritage.

At a banquet held to impress Mark Antony, Cleopatra pulled a giant pearl from her ear, dissolved it in her wine, and drank it. The scene also might allude to the rumor that Fisher once ate a banknote on a piece of bread in exchange for a sum of money. Regardless of the verity of either story, the painting reflects Fisher’s alluring beauty, powers of seduction, and notorious extravagance.