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Beham, Barthel
Cleopatra
1524

Barthel Beham was born in Nuremberg in 1502 and belonged to a group of 16th-century German printmakers known as the Little Masters. Although his career was short-lived, Barthel Beham can be singled out as the most gifted and inventive member of this group of artists. Beham often depicted subjects that were previously peripheral in German art, including mythological scenes and images of everyday life. Best known for his small engravings of classical themes, Beham’s Cleopatra depicts a nude female figure standing near a tree. Emphasis is placed on contour lines, and Cleopatra’s nudity imbues the print with an element of eroticism. Furthermore, it brings to the fore the s-shaped viper that the Egyptian Queen holds in her left hand, which according to some literary sources was the means by which she poisoned herself. In style and subject, Beham drew inspiration from Albrecht Dürer’s prints and the engraved works of the Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi. Very few of Barthel Beham’s prints bear his monogram; however, the growing interest in miniature objects in the 16th century made his diminutive prints desirable amongst early collectors. This impression of the Cleopatra is a very fine example of the fourth state of Beham’s engraving–before the artist retouched certain details and the date of creation was added near Cleopatra’s left shoulder.

 
Beham, Barthel
Nuremberg, Germany 1502-Bologna, Italy 1540
Cleopatra
1524
Engraving on paper, state IV/VI
5.7 x 4.0 cm
Gift of Freda and Irwin Browns, 2020
63-011.04

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