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Still life of fruit and a pie on a table

The Royal Collection has a stunning collection of seventeenth century Dutch art

Jan de Bray (Haarlem c.1627-Haarlem 1697)

The Banquet of Cleopatra Signed and dated 1652

RCIN 404756

Cumberland Art Gallery, Presence Chamber, Hampton Court Palace

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This painting depicts the story recounted in the Natural History of Pliny, where the Queen of Egypt makes a bet with her lover, Mark Antony, that she is prepared to spend a fortune on a single feast. Cleopatra removes one of her pearls from her ear, dissolves it in vinegar and drinks it, thereby winning the bet.

Although not all the figures can be identified, the principal characters are members of the artist's family. Seated at the table are his father, Salomon de Bray in the role of Antony and his mother, Anna Westerbaen, as Cleopatra. The artist himself is portrayed at the left edge of the composition holding a halberd (a pole weapon). Next to him at the front are two of the younger children, Jacob and one of his sisters, holding a pestle and mortar. Balancing them in the foreground on the right side are two of the children who died young. To the right of them is Joseph as, holding a pewter dish, with another sister behind carrying two rummers on a silver dish. Behind her is another brother, Dirck. The range of still-life objects attests the geographical reach of the Dutch maritime empire.