The Death of Cleopatra

Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, 1876, marble. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. Image credit: SAAM.

The Death of Cleopatra was Edmonia Lewis’ most ambitious project: A large marble sculpture (weighing almost 3 tons), completed for the 1876 Centennial exhibition in Philadelphia. A more detailed discussion of this sculpture is in the works, but for now, here is an overview in video form. If it sounds a bit like a student presentation, that’s because it started out as one. But it gives you the basics, and then a bit more.

If you are interested in the fascinating afterlife of the Death of Cleopatra, several links in part 2 of the resource section lead to news articles and podcasts that tell its “lost and found” story, and how it ended up in the storage shed of a mall in Illinois in the late 1980s. It had sat for many years in wind and weather, and if you study the high-resolution images the Smithsonian American Art Museum provides up close, you can see the weather damage that has destroyed what would have once been a highly polished marble surface.

Your Turn

There is so much more to say about this sculpture, and it will appear here soon. But as I work on an ambitious goal, a model essay that would pass muster with art historians in terms of professional standards and originality, but is still well-written and of interest to someone outside of the field who wants to learn more about this sculpture: What do you want to hear more about?

And: Did you like the short overview in video form? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a written blog post as opposed to a video presentation like this? Do you have a preference?
Disclaimer: this is not a professionally produced video, but intentionally made with simple tools that are widely available: a slide show with a (slightly angsty) voiceover, which could be recorded with any simple recording software (I used Zoom’s screen sharing and video recording function, but there are many free applications).