A Mediterranean living room believed to be the earliest example of pre-Roman design, possibly showing Cleopatra making a cup of the beverage, has gone on sale after years in the private collection of an LA gallery owner.
The table’s most famous — and hallowed — feature is a carved stone which dates from around AD 73 and tells the tale of the legendary queen who spied on her brother Antony and plotted a way to revenge him. When set alight, it is believed that it saved the life of Antony and the birth of Rome.
When it came to finding a home for the extraordinary piece, exhibition curator Jonathan Clouston, of Wright & Wright gallery in Los Angeles, originally saw it as “an important historical item”, but when a restaurateur approached him and said he was looking for a home for a coffee table he had used as a coffee table for 50 years, “all hell broke loose”.
L-R. Antony and Cleopatra (third from left), Caesar and Cleopatra (second from left), Julius Caesar and Hippolyta (right) and Cleopatra and Emilia (middle left). AFP/Getty Images
“We always knew that in the land of tablets of Roman times, the hipness quotient resided somewhere between Reggio Emilia and Berlin,” he said, recalling the auction in July where it sold for more than $150,000.
Archaeologists have been trying to determine if the largest of the three Artemisia paintings seen as evidence of early Roman breeding is indeed the oldest surviving depiction of the dynasty’s most famous female hero.
On the reverse side of the same piece, the artist adds what was, at the time, an abridged version of a certain Lexium vine where the queen is said to be high-sticking.
Among the yardsticks to measure the antiquity is the shape of the oval chair, the furniture and the wheel of Mycenaeans, according to the exhibition that houses the work.
“It’s not a new discovery for Italy; the Artemisia painting shows up in probably every Italian archaeological museum,” said Clouston.