Ariadne or Cleopatra?

Ariadne or Cleopatra?
Ariadne or Cleopatra?

On many occasions the iconographic identification of the work is one of the most difficult aspects to identify in terms of its analysis, the experts propose one or several hypotheses that often change over the years, new study techniques etc. This question is not trivial at all since for man, perhaps mistakenly, the enjoyment of art is first of all to understand its interpretation. In this sense we can point out how some of the most outstanding works of all time still present a complicated iconographic interpretation; one of the most striking examples is the complicated iconography of some sculptures that have been identified as Ariadne or Cleopatra.


In the collection of the Prado Museum in Madrid we can find one of these sculptures. OfRoman originthe work belonged to the personal collection of Cristina of Sweden who, after abdicating her throne, settled in Rome and began to collect a large number of works from classical antiquity. In this way the queen was made with this unique piece that was later acquired by the Spanish monarchs Felipe V and Isabel de Farnesio to decorate the gardens of her new palace in the Granja de San Ildefonso.

The piece represents a woman lying with her hands above her head in a sleeping position while she appears covered by a robe that adheres to her anatomy forming smallfolds. On one of its arms, the sculpture carries a precious bracelet in the shape of a coiled snake, it is precisely this jewel that made us think that the sculpture could represent Cleopatra instead of Ariadne, however, the investigations carried out in this regard have identified the figure as the daughter of Minos and not like the queen of Egypt.

In the Vatican Museums we find an ancient sculpture in which the same debate as in the Prado sculpture has been reproduced. According to the museum's own file, the piece was bought by Pope Julius II himself from an antique dealer in order to decorate the gardens of the Belvedere Palace. It was B altasar Castiglione himself who identified the iconography as Cleopatra, reading in an ancient treatise how Caesar's army returned from Egypt with a sculpture of Cleopatra being bitten by a snake. The lady appears more incorporated than the work in the Prado, although she still maintains that same sleeping posture and on her arm she carries the same snake as the Ariadne in the Prado, only that in the Vatican work it took a little longer to be identified with a bracelet and not with a king snake.

ariadna-sleeping vatican

In both works it seems that today their iconography is clearer than ever, opting in both for the Ariadne hypothesis, although the conclusions are not yet definitive and even today some dissenting voices continue to be raised in this regard, incorporating new theories – in both works the possibility was also raised that it represented a nymph- andincreasing controversy.

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