Friday, September 05, 2008

Dressing Cleopatra: The Cleopatra Costume in the Arts

I spent the summer writing a book.

On my website are five pages dealing with the Cleopatra costume on stage and the screen. Since November 2002, I have had 241,809 visitors to the site. This summer I decided to expand my research, include research into some of the Cleopatras from paintings and eventually publish a book starting with the information that I already had online.

So far I have a total of 160 pages with over 70 full page color artworks.

Writing the book was fairly eye opening. When I first started writing, I thought that historical accuracy of the Cleopatra costume was the desired goal and somehow deviations from that were "wrong." However, the more I saw some of the truly creative and innovative creations, I have come to appreciate all approaches—whether historical accuracy or the flights of fancy from some of the designers. A few of my 70 full page color artworks are seen below.

Cleopatra herself might have appeared in the first example. Here she is pictured beside a small black basalt statue believed to have been created during her lifetime. She wears a typical Alexandrian Graeco-Roman belted stolla and sea-green palla.

Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was written in 1606. If the boy actor Edmans portraying Cleopatra were dressed as James I's queen, he would have a wheel farthingale, ruff, and stomacher.

Next is seen a Cleopatra that might have appeared in Dryden’s All for Love, during the Restoration period. Here she is made to represent Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland. Typical of the period were the beginnings of the standard tragic costume: crown, plumes and train.

Jumping to the end of the nineteenth century, we see “The Divine” Sarah Bernhardt in Sardou’s Cléopâtre. Artist/designer George Clairin painted her in this costume and Sarony photographed her in it when she came to the United States.

Into the twentieth century, we have Leon Baskt’s design for Ida Rubinstein in Fokine’s 1909 Cléopâtre for Diaghliv’s Ballet Russes ballet.

In 1945, Vivien Leigh starred in Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra with Claude Rains as Caesar.

Valentina in 1947 designed an understated elegant dress for Katherine Cornell’s Broadway Antony and Cleopatra. Cornell was nominated for one of the first Tonys for her performance.

Perhaps the most famous and infamous Cleopatra was Elizabeth Taylor’s in 1963. Here are three of the over 40 costumes designed for her in what was at the time considered one of the most expensive flops in Hollywood history—it led to the firing of several executives and made Taylor a permanent star.

In 1999, Leonor Varela starred in a two-part made-for-television version of the Cleopatra story. The Mausoleum gown and mantle are made from iridescent gold tissue silk, varigated with gold, magenta, and green. The "electrum" combination Isis crown is a modified Greco-Roman style. The drawing is done in frontal based style, meaning that the “feather” section is turned toward the viewer even though it in actuality faced the viewer.

The twenty-first century Cleopatras have often been garbed in other periods. As the 2005 Glyndebourne Cleopatra from Guilio Cesare in Egitto, Danielle de Niese looks like a combination of Lulu and Velma from ‘Chicago.” She flirts with dark glasses, a cocktail, pink cigarette and umbrella.

While publication of the book may be a few months away, I feel like I took a class in Cleopatra this summer—and passed.


Grace said...

mr. claudon!
i'm so glad you're blogging again and i'm looking forward to seeing your book!

Lisa said...

I'm looking forward to this book. =] I'm a huge Cleopatra fan.