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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Cleopatra of Egypt: Press reviews
Basalt statue of Cleopatra
Amazing works of art but is the exhibition a success?
The national press review the British Museum's exhibition, Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth.

The Guardian

The story of Antony and Cleopatra is a rare instance in which the losers are remembered as more glamorous than the winners.

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, seduced not one but two of history's most famous politicians, first living with and having a son by Julius Caesar; then, after Caesar's death, having an even more public affair with Mark Antony.

Antony and Cleopatra were eventually defeated and driven to suicide by Caesar's great-nephew, Octavian; but even though he went on to transform the Roman Empire, no artist or writer was ever inspired by his story as they were by Cleopatra and her Antony.

The British Museum's exhibition Cleopatra of Egypt: From History to Myth takes this magical story and pulverises it.

It makes Cleopatra, who has seemed like our contemporary from the time of Shakespeare's England to Liz Taylor's Hollywood, a figure as remote as Shelley's Ozymandias.

It achieves this despite containing works of art that, under normal circumstances, would take your breath away.

"Wonderful things," as Howard Carter said when he first peeped into the tomb of Tutankhamen - yet even the most wonderful things can be sterilised by a badly conceived exhibition.

The Times

Power was evidently far more essential than appearance to Cleopatra, as this exhibition shows.

It focuses less on her reputed beauty than on her role as leader of her nation and her relationship with Rome.

Though there is an enjoyable visual aspect to this exhibition, it is also a serious and scholarly show, investigating the role of a queen who stood at an enormously important historical and geographical crux.

The Daily Telegraph

This exhibition, in the new Joseph Hotung Great Court Gallery, is packed with interesting material from museums all over the world.

As well as presenting images of Cleopatra and the men in her life, it examines the milieu of Alexandria - Cleopatra's capital - a key city of the ancient world that has almost disappeared beneath the modern town, though intriguing fragments are now surfacing from beneath the harbour.

One remarkable exhibit is a life-like mosaic of a dog closely resembling the old HMV logo.

My only real complaint is that the whole thing seems too compressed. Inside this medium-size show, it seems to me, there is a larger, more expansive one struggling to get out.

Now that the Great Court is completed, the next item the British Museum requires is some really adequate temporary exhibition galleries. (This new space, above the old Reading room, is fine, but rather constricted.)

Then, London could host the kind of grand exhibitions of classical, non-European and medieval art that are common in Paris and New York. The queues for Cleopatra suggest they would be highly popular.

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