Are These the Faces of the Children of Antony and Cleopatra?

I’m not wholly convinced, but Giuseppina Capriotti, an Egyptologist at Italy’s National Research Council, thinks she can make the case based on style, dating, and iconography.

Cleopatra’s twin babies now have a face. An Italian Egyptologist has rediscovered a sculpture of Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, the offspring of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII, at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Discovered in 1918 near the temple of Dendera on the west bank of the Nile, the sandstone statue was acquired by the Egyptian Museum but has remained largely overlooked.

The back of the 33-foot sculpture, catalogued as JE 46278 at the museum, features some engraved stars — likely indicating that the stone was originally part of a ceiling. Overall, the rest of the statue appears to be quite unusual.

“It shows two naked children, one male and one female, of identical size standing within the coils of two snakes. Each figure has an arm over the other’s shoulder,‭ ‬while the other hand grasps a serpent,” Giuseppina Capriotti, an Egyptologist at Italy’s National Research Council, told Discovery News.

The researcher identified the children as Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, Antony and Cleopatra’s twins, following a detailed stylistic and iconographic analysis published by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.

Capriotti noticed that the boy has a sun-disc on his head,‭ ‬while the girl boasts a crescent and a lunar disc. The serpents, perhaps two cobras, would also be different forms of sun and moon, she said. Both discs are decorated with the udjat-eye, also called the eye of Horus, a common symbol in Egyptian art. ‭

“Unfortunately the faces are not well preserved, but we can see that the boy has curly hair and a braid on the right side of the head, typical of Egyptian children. The girl’s hair is arranged in a way‬ similar to the so-called ‭m‬elonenfrisur‭ (‬melon coiffure ), an elaborate hairstyle often associated with the Ptolemaic dynasty, and Cleopatra particularly,” said Capriotti.

The researcher compared the group statue with another Ptolemaic sculpture, the statue of Pakhom, governor of Dendera, now on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“Stylistically, the statues have several features in common. For example, the figures have round faces,‭ ‬little chins and big eyes,” Capriotti said.

Since the statue of Pakhom was dated to 50-30 B.C., she concluded that the twin sculpture was produced by an Egyptian artist at the end of the Ptolemaic period, after Roman triumvir Mark Antony recognized his twins in 37 B.C.

I’d have to read the whole report, but based on what this story has to say, it seems the data are more suggestive than conclusive.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.


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