Posthumous painted portrait of Cleopatra VII of Ptolemaic Egypt

Most likely a posthumously painted portrait of Cleopatra VII of the Ptolemaic dynasty

Dating back to around the 1st century AD, the portrait is believed to be a posthumous depiction of Cleopatra VII (reign: 51–30 BC), the last queen of ancient Egypt, and is commonly referred to as the “Cleopatra of Herculaneum.” The portrait is notable for its portrayal of the Egyptian queen with red hair, a feature that is believed to have been a common trait among the Ptolemaic dynasty (c. 305 to 30 BC) to which Cleopatra belonged.

The artwork also features Cleopatra, who is in a large frame with black painted background, wearing a royal white diadem and a hairstyle exquisitely decorated with pearl-studded hairpins.

The Egyptian queen’s face and neck are painted white and her hair reddish brown. She can be seen donning an earing with a ball-shaped pendant as a few locks of hair hang loosely near her ear.

The portrait is believed to have been created during the Roman period, around the 1st century AD, long after Cleopatra’s death in 30 BC.

As of 2023, the portrait is located in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy.

Herculaneum: Where the portrait was found

The portrait of Cleopatra was found at Herculaneum. The ancient Roman town was said to have been preserved from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town located in the Bay of Naples, Italy, which was destroyed and buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Similar to Pompeii, Herculaneum was preserved under layers of volcanic ash, and excavations have revealed an incredibly well-preserved city, with intact buildings, streets, and even household objects. The town was inhabited mainly by wealthy Romans, and the excavations have uncovered many luxurious villas and elaborate frescoes and mosaics. Herculaneum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.