Mark Antony and Cleopatra

Gustav Klimt, Vienna, 1885, glue tempera
The Croatian National Theatre Ivan pl. Zajc, Rijeka (vault)

The scene that testifies to the battle of Alexandria in which Mark Antony was defeated by Octavian is set inside of an ancient venue. His tortured body is shown right next to Cleopatra, whose face clearly shows despair over the fate that befell her. Meanwhile, in the background, a fierce battle is still going on between the two warring parties with several prominent protagonists, one fully depicted from the back and the other from the side. A similar character can later be found on Klimt’s famous Poster for the First Exhibition of the Vienna Secession, and it depicts Theseus fighting the Minotaur. A preparatory drawing for the horse’s head, which is also clearly distinguishable, remained visible, which was often the case with his Rijeka paintings. This extremely complex scene, which would later help him paint the ceiling of the Burgtheater in Vienna, puts the love couple and the staging of death at the centre, while the war scene in the background seems like an inserted fragment that exists on its own. Klimt’s composition eludes any theatrical illusionism and insists on timeless symbolism.