Cleopatra, love, political and gemstone ambitions

 

Right from Ancient history, Egypt played a major role in our civilisation. Only the pharaoh, earthly king-god, had the right to wear precious and rare materials. Note that the diamond is not yet known at that time. Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC), last queen of Egypt before Roman domination was probably the first Diva of all time.

 

cleopatra and jewelleryAlthough she is often portrayed as a woman of remarkable beauty, there is nothing to prove it. A tendency to romanticise her love conquests has probably led to the idealisation of a splendid woman. Literature and film have made her a myth. Different actresses, as Jeanne d’Alcy, Theda Bara, Vivien Leigh and Sarah Bernhardt played this legendary woman. But the film “Cleopatra” made in 1963 by Joseph Mankiewicz made its mark on history. Who better than Elizabeth Taylor - with her superb violet coloured eyes - could immortalise the sublime image of Cleopatra in love with a Mark-Anthony played by Richard Burton?

 

Cleopatra’s convictions and her power made her famous. She used her assets to manipulate her rivals and her friends. Plutarch, ancient Greek moralist and one of the rare authentic sources of the time, said of her: “her actual beauty, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, had something bewitching about it”. She was open-minded and had a great interest in foreign cultures. She rarely required an interpreter to speak to barbarians; she could speak directly to Hebrews, Ethiopians, Arabs and Syrians. She was cultivated in art and literature, philosophy, science and interested in military arts.

cleopatra and jewelleryThe greatness of this woman resided in her two major assets that were politics and love. Cleopatra was a descendant of Alexander the Great and so of Macedonian blood. She became integrated in Egypt by learning its culture and by identifying herself as the daughter of the god RĂ¢, the sun god. After the death of her father Ptolemy XII, Cleopatra arranged things so as to reign alone over Egypt, and sent her brother into exile. She rapidly became aware of the fragility of her power. It has to be said that Egypt was under the protectorate of Rome, which had intensified its interests in the country, as a hub to conquer unknown territories, sources of treasure and precious stones.

Cleopatra played on Caesar’s feelings to manipulate him. At first she became his mistress and had a son, Caesarion, by him. Caesar helped her dominate the enemy troops in her country. When Caesar died in 44, she realised that she would have to conquer the heart of the next emperor having vanquished Brutus and Cassius, was already fascinated by the queen of Egypt and invited her to Cilicia.

She put all her charms in play to press him. She arrived via the river Cydnus aboard a boat with a golden stern, purple sails and silver oars. She saw herself as Aphrodite, lying under a golden canopy, surrounded by Cupids and Nereids with music and perfume mingling in the air. This scene was immortalised by William Shakespeare in 1623 in “Anthony and Cleopatra”. Cleopatra had a bet with Anthony to impress him with her wealth and create an alliance with him. Plancus was witness to the bet. In order to prove how wealthy she was, Cleopatra commanded a slave to bring her a glass of vinegar, took her priceless pearl earring from her ear and dropped it in the vinegar. When the pearl had dissolved, she drank the vinegar and declared it was just the beginning. Antony was already impressed but she wanted to dissolve another pearl. However, Plancus stopped her and declared that she had won the bet. Her plan worked because Anthony became her ally.


cleopatra and jewelleryAs a woman, she could not be head of the army, but by taking her new lover’s heart, she obtained a certain form of power. Impressed by her wealth, he joined her in Egypt and declared himself ready to give her whatever she desired. They later married and she was declared queen of Egypt, Cyprus, Libya and Lower Syria. Later, Anthony felt betrayed by this woman who wanted her son Caesarion to succeed to the throne. Mark-Anthony killed himself in the mistaken belief that Cleopatra had already done so. Then she purposely poisoned herself with the venom of a snake.

Cleopatra’s beauty and seductive power have often been made reference to throughout history and some pieces of jewellery make reference to her sentimental life. Just like the snake, as a powerful symbol since Ancient times in Egypt, was the symbol of the pharaoh. Then during the Victorian age when it was often represented in the form of a necklace or bracelet and biting its tail, a sign of eternal love. No jewellery or gemstones - as emeralds - known to have belonged to her have survived. At that time gemmological identification didn't exist and the word 'emerald' could be associate to every green gemstone. Although, Egypt was a significant and primary producer of emeralds during the Cleopatra's reign.

But if Cleopatra would have known about diamonds she might have taken excessive advantage of them. In order to show her power to her enemies and her friends, she would probably have worn the most precious of gems ever discovered.

 

29th September 2017. Image: PD & PD US: unique portait of Cleopatra on coin, Michelangelo portrait of Cleopatra, Death of Cleopatra painted by Reginald Arthur. text © World Luxury Jewellers
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