4. Biblical Queen: Queen of Sheba
One of the few Queens who appears in the Bible.
But this fine lady was fairly anodyne.
Her story focuses on her travels to Jerusalem. She arrived “with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices,
and very much gold, and precious stones” (I Kings 10:2).
When she did arrive, she mistook Solomon's royal palace glass floor for water, and lifted her dress, revealing her hairy legs,
for which King Solomon reprimanded her. (This is 2000 years before hair removal creams and seems a bit rude when she has
just gifted him a huge pile of gold and spices.)
She asked him three questions to test his wisdom, and returned home.
5. The Queen of Sheba embarking on her journey to see King Solomon
Crowned and dressed in red, the Queen descends the steps.
In the Bible, she travels across the desert by camel, but Claude sends her
The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba
L'Embarquement de la reine de Saba
National Gallery, London
10. Two episodes are shown in the same fresco, separated from each other by the column
of the royal palace:
the Procession of the Queen of Sheba
Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon
Procession of the Queen of Sheba:
According to the legend, the tree grown from Adam's grave stood and into the time
of Solomon, who had it cut.
His workers laid the hewn log across a stream to serve as a bridge.
As the Queen of Sheba passed by on her visit to the Solomon, she came to the bridge
and foresaw that one day the world's savior would hang from this beam.
She therefore refused to step on it, and instead knelt before it in veneration.
Meeting between the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon:
a temple-like structure,
Solomon stands with his courtiers,
the queen, deferentially bows to him.
Piero della Francesca
Adoration of the Holy Wood and the Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
L'Adoration du bois de la vraie croix et rencontre de Salomon et de la reine de Saba
San Francesco, Arezzo
14. Mythological queen: Helen of Troy
She has been depicted in art since the 7th century BCE.
Abduction and seduction are always in fashion.
A ravishing beauty known as “the face that launched a thousand ships.”
Though most of the time she's called Helen of Troy, she was actually from the Greek city of Sparta and was the daughter of Zeus,
King of the Gods, and Leda, the wife of Tyndareas, King of Sparta. Since Zeus seduced Leda while in the form of a swan, it's said
that Helen hatched out of an egg.
"of Troy" ...That started after she was taken away from Sparta by Paris, a handsome Trojan prince.
Just one problem: she was already married to a guy named Menelaus, who didn't take too kindly to his wife's Trojan fling.
To answer the insult, Menelaus gathered the biggest army of Greeks ever assembled, sailed across the sea to Troy, and ignited
the legendary Trojan War.
15. Oh, that Trojan really was a charmer ...
The couple pose in front of their bed with its rumpled sheets.
He is naked and playing his lyre, his cheeks flushed.
She wears diaphanous clothing which has slipped off her right shoulder,
and her cheeks are distinctly flushed too.
Watching over them is a small statue of Venus.
The Love of Helen and Paris
Les amours de Pâris et d'Hélène
19. Really, how could someone depict me with such a nasty look on my face?
Helen of Troy
Hélène de Troie
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
21. Helen of Troy admires herself in a mirror, the back of which bears the image of Venus.
Around her are white and red roses for love, and five white doves,
two of which are ‘courting’.
In the distance are the lofty towers of the fortified city of Troy.
Evelyn De Morgan
Helen of Troy
Hélène de Troie
The De Morgan Foundation, Wandsworth Museum, Compton, Guildford
24. Born out of an egg: Clytemnestra
The two sisters, Helen and Clytemnestra had very interesting origins.
Their Father was Zeus who disguised himself as a swan in order to seduce their mother Leda.
Being fathered by a swan, they were born out of an egg.
Clytemnestra’s rebellion was triggered most horribly, when Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia,
and planning revenge, she took a lover whilst her husband was away at Troy.
When Agamemnon returned, the two of them, the Queen and her lover, murdered him.
25. Zeus in the form of a swan,
the result of their union:
the newly hatched twins, Helen and Clytemnestra
and their brothers Castor and Pollux.
Leonardo da Vinci, follower of, suiveur de
Leda and the Swan
Léda et le cygne
early 16th century
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
28. A dramatic image ...
the queen Clytemnestra with blood-spattered garments,
moments after the murder
Clytemnestra after the murder
Clytemnestre après le meurtre
Guildhall Art Gallery, London
31. I don't know what I was thinking …
Guérin’s Clytemnestra hesitates before killing
the sleeping Agamemnon.
(Aegisthus, leaning behind her back, seems to be pushing her.)
Clytemnestre hésite avant de frapper Agamemnon endormi.
Égisthe, son complice, la pousse
Clytemnestra hesitates before killing the sleeping Agamemnon
Musée du Louvre, Paris
34. Revenge in the family: Electra
Electra was the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon.
Obsessed with revenge against her mother for the murder of her father, Electra is totally unforgiving of Clytemnestra
and is hell-bent on getting revenge.
Electra has only lived for the moment of revenge, and once it is achieved, it has no reason to exist.
35. Electra in funeral black …
Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon
Électre sur la tombe d'Agamemnon
38. Orestes returns home at the urging of his sister Electra
and the god Apollo.
Do they want a nice happy family reunion? Not so much.
Electra and Apollo want Orestes to kill his mom Clytemnestra,
for killing his dad, Agamemnon.
Jean Baptiste Joseph Wicar
Electra Receiving the Ashes of her Brother, Orestes
Électre recevant les cendres d'Oreste
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester
41. Mythological murder: Hecuba
Hecuba is fascinating character:
Queen of Troy, wife to Priam, mother to Hector, Cassandra, and Achilles (and some 15 other children besides).
After Troy’s fall when her youngest son is murdered by King Polymnestor, blinds the murdering king
The gods turn her into a mad dog.
42. With the elegance and precision of an angel of wrath ...
three figures, emerging from the shadows,
Hecuba with outstretched hands,
Polymnestor with a clenched fist, and a woman who is restraining him.
The mother as the executor of a just punishment.
During the Trojan war Hecuba had sent her youngest son, together with a large
fortune, to safety with Polymnestor, her son-in-law and King of Thrace.
Polymnestor, however, abused Hecuba's trust in a dreadful manner, murdering
the defenseless child he was supposed to protect.
Hecuba doesn’t kill Polymnestor but makes sure that, just before losing his sight,
he witnesses the murder of his own sons.
Guiseppi Maria Crespi, dit Lo Spagnolo
Hécube aveuglant Polymnestor
Hecuba Blinds Polymestor
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels
45. Cassandra’s curse
A princess of Troy, and yeah, she was really pretty, some say she was the second most beautiful woman in the world next to Helen.
But despite all these good things, poor Cassandra was horribly cursed. She was able to see the future, but no one would ever
believe any of her predictions.
Why? Well, Apollo gave her the gift of prophecy because he was sweet on her. But then, when she wouldn't go all the way with him,
he cursed her to never be believed.
During the Trojan War she tried and tried to steer her city from the catastrophe she saw coming, but everybody just thought she
was completely insane.
After the fall of Troy, Cassandra hides in the temple, clinging to a statue of Athena. But she is found and raped by a warrior
called Ajax the Lesser.
Not long after Ajax had his way with her, Cassandra was claimed as a love slave and taken to Greece by Agamemnon.
46. Cassandra clings to the Xoanon, while Ajax the Lesser
is about to drag her away in front of her father Priam
Ajax in Troy drags Cassandra from Palladium before eyes of Priam
Ajax à Troy traîne Cassandra de Palladium sous les yeux de Priam
Fresque romaine de l'atrium de la Maison de Ménandre à Pompéi
Roman fresco from the atrium of the House of Menander, Pompeii
50. Cassandra in front of the burning city of Troy,
depicted with disheveled hair denoting the insanity ascribed to her by the Trojans
Evelyn De Morgan
De Morgan Collection
54. Widowed Queen of Carthage: Dido
As a post script to the end of the Trojan war we have Dido, Queen of Carthage.
Aeneas, son of a Trojan prince and the goddess Aphrodite, escapes the sacking of Troy and is on his way across the Mediterranean
to form the city Rome at the Olympian God’s behest.
Aeneas sails into Carthage and Dido falls for him.
They have a torrid affair but when he leaves to follow his destiny she completely falls to pieces and makes a funeral pyre
of his belongings and throws herself onto it..
55. Dido with the sword by Aeneas, lies dying pointing
at his ship leaving harbour by the light of the early dawn.
Resting her hand on Dido’s chest wound, her sister Anna
comforts the queen in her dying moments.
Death of Dido
La Mort de Didon
Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels
Aeneas' sword covered with her blood
history moves to the founding of Rome …
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven
61. Queen Consort of Thebes: Jocasta
She was married to King Laius. However, the oracle predicted his murder by his own son.
When Jocasta gave birth to a son, the baby was taken from her and given to a shepherd to leave on a mountain to die.
... some sixteen years later
Laius and Oedipus meet as strangers on the road and, in a fight, Oedipus kills Laius and then carries on to Thebes where
he marries Queen Jocasta.
When the city was struck by a plague (a punishment for Oedipus' unwitting crimes), Oedipus eventually learned of his
patricide and incest.
When Jocasta realises the truth, that she has married her son, she hangs herself in horror.
Oedipus gouges out his eyes.
62. Beginning to suspect, Jocasta begged Oedipus to stop his relentless quest.
Oedipus Separating from Jocasta
Œdipe se séparant de Jocaste
Musee Comtadin Duplessis, Carpentras
65. True Drama: Antigone
Name Antigone, Current city Elysium, Occupation Heroine, Princess of Thebes, Rebel
Oedipus, my Dad, who was also my half-brother, yeah
Jocasta, my Mom, who was also my grandma, again, it's a long story
Creon, my uncle and great uncle, who buried me alive when I insisted on burying my brother
But the drama does not end there.
Jocasta’s two sons fight and kill each other, Creon takes the throne and decrees that one prince shall have proper funeral rites
but the other shall remain unburied.
Sacrilege in any religion, Jocasta’s daughter, Antigone, defies the king, and buries her brother, choosing divine law over civil law.
Creon orders Antigone to be buried alive in a tomb.
He then has a change of heart (so unlike a politician) and tries to release her but finds that, she has hanged herself.
Creon’s son Haemon, who was in love with Antigone, commits suicide by knife.
Then, his mother Queen Euridyce also kills herself in despair over her son’s death.
(A family was badly in need of some relationship therapy.)
66. greeted by carrion crows ...
Antigone buried Polyneices, even though it meant her death.
Marie Spartali Stillman
Antigone Giving Burial Rites to the Body of Her Brother Polynices
or Antigone Giving Burial Rites to Polynices
Antigone enterrant Polynice ou Antigone recouvrant le corps de Polynice
Simon Carter Gallery, Woodbridge, Suffolk
69. A mythological demoness: Lamia
Queen Lamia. Very beautiful, desired, and seduced by Zeus.
But Hera (aka Mrs. Zeus) is furious and forces Lamia to eat the children she had mothered with Zeus.
From then on she becomes a phantom and a daemon, seduces handsome young men and then devours their flesh.
70. A magical embrace between a woman with the tail of a serpent and a young knight …
The man is entwined not only with the woman's tail but in brambles.
In the background rabbits dash away from the scene.
Isobel Lilian Gloag
The Knight and the Mermaid or The Kiss of the Enchantress
Le Chevalier et la Sirène ou Le Baiser de l'Enchanteresse
72. a classic femme fatale ...
a young man
the snakeskin, which gives us the only subtle hint of what is to come
(Was inspired by Keats' celebrated poem of 1820, about a bridegroom
who discovers on his wedding night that his bride is a monstrous half-serpent
who preys on young men.)
John William Waterhouse
Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland
Badass Queens from Classical History
Bouleversantes Reines extraordinaires de l'histoire classique
images and text credit www.
Music The Piano Guys My Girl
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