niemeyer’s  optimizes  his  historical  quarter

Here  then

2330  years  ago

Military  Historically

“ the  only  defeat  Alexander  had  ever  suffered ”


his  greatest  victory


Ridinger’s  Alexander  Drawing  of  1723

as  maybe  the  most  spectacular  drawing  of  the  century

anticipating  the  change  of  history  painting

two  generations  before  J. L. David

Ridinger, Johann Elias (Ulm 1698 – Augsburg 1767). Alexander the Great at the Hyphasis in the Punjab, India, in Autumn 326 B.C. The Zenith of an Empire, a Turning-point of History. Offering scene amidst the camp on the banks of the Hyphasis (Vjâsa; tributary of the Indus). Pen and brush with brown ink heightened with white and black border. Inscribed in brown ink lower right on the upper step of the altar: Ioha: Elias Ridinger: inv: et del Ao. 1723 Aug: vin. 19¼ × 20⅝ in (489 × 524 mm).


WELTKUNST LXIV, 20, p. 2687



L. H. Niemeyer, (Ridinger the Unknown. Aspects to the work of the painter, draughtsman, and graphic artist), in: WELTKUNST 1994/20, pp. 2687 ff.; The same, (Dresden Address – The Minimized Ridinger.) Enlarged and revised internet version of the speech delivered to the audience of the Ridinger ceremonial act of the Technische Universität Dresden at Grillenburg Castle on April 27, 1998; The same, (The Vanity Symbolism of Johann Elias Ridinger.) Lecture to the audience of the 6th annual meeting of the German Section of the European Dance Macabre Association at Bamberg on April 29, 2000, published in the 2nd yearbook of the society, L’Art Macabre 2, ed. by U. Wunderlich, 2001, pp. 94 ff. Enlarged internet version; Peter G. Tsouras, ALEXANDER THE GREAT. Lone Stand in India / Alexander’s Most Heroic Moment, in: “MILITARY HISTORY”, 2004/2, pp. 26 ff.

Nagler XIII, pp. 160 + 162 (“At the beginning there he painted several historic descriptions for the art dealer Dan. Herz”, of these the two known engravings to Alexander qualified as “rich compositions”); Thieme-Becker XXVIII (1934), 308-311: VII. (Miscellania: Battles of Alexander the Great, Thienemann no 917 f.).

Autonomous  work  of  sheer  exciting  density

to  the  Alexander  cycle

not  provable  in  the  graphic  work

as, however, politically not correct obviously not published by Herz.

Capturing that critical moment when both the disobedience of the troops to march on, unfavourable sacrificial signs, and the futility of his Achilles-like fume stopped the Indian campaign and Alexander realized that he must turn back. And showing a king who accepts this moment and therewith subordinates the ruler’s vision of the completion of the Empire on Ganges and Ocean, as in ideas lying near at hand, to the small-minded, but understandable earnest longing of his soldiers for finally getting home to wife and kid after 8-years’ fighting, marching 18000 km, the last two months of which at continuous rain. And therewith accepts the zenith of his own history.

In  the  light  of  military  history

2330 years later Peter G. Tsouras shall term this process in MILITARY HISTORY’S (XXI, 2) title story “ALEXANDER THE GREAT. Lone Stand in India / Alexander’s Most Heroic Moment”

“ the  only  defeat  Alexander  had  ever  suffered ”.

And besides the greatest one possible. Sustained subsequent to his greatest victory few months ago, at the Hydaspes River (Dschilam River) against Porus. Demonstrated by illustration of the drawing here :

“ An  illustration  by  Johann  Elias  Ridinger

shows  Alexander  after  the  Hydaspes ,

facing  his  greatest  defeat :

being  compelled  to  turn  back  at  the  behest  of  his  own  weary  officers  and  troops .”

As Ridinger after previously having worked two conventional glorifying Alexander drawings (The Siege of Halicarnassos + The Passage of the Tigris, both still engraved by others) now takes up the psychological greatness of this moment

of  an  especially  intellectual  capitulation , too ,

as  the

unprecedentedly  civilizing  moment  pure  and  simple

and understands it as his quite personal (preliminary) artistic result of this unparalleled life he intellectually grasps far ahead of his own, the baroque age. Therewith anticipatingly developing the hitherto existing history painting

from  the  depiction  of  heroic  acts

to  the  reflection  on  these

by two generations.

An art-historical merit for that in literature still the time of about 1800 stands with the celebrated painting of the unproven saga of the Byzantine general Belisarius by Jacques Louis David of 1780/81 as crucial experience and starting-point of this new conception of painting.

How here by Ridinger the suspense-charged moment of the flowing cloak of history is illustrated stands not only by itself alone as a

psychologically  brilliant  master  performance

of the just 25-year-old – of the same age Thomas Mann e.g. finished the ‘Buddenbrooks’ laying with it the foundation of his international reputation, so Lennartz in 1952, what one hundred years later Heinz Berggruen lets ask for the origin of the worldly wisdom and maturity for this, Gottfried Benn published with “Under the Cerebral Cortex” his first prose text, which he later “uses so to speak as quarry” (FAZ 8-24-01 + 8-22-03) – , but proves him directly as

a  master  of  modernity.

On whose inner break with the heroic pathos, here taking place only still perhaps more unconsciously – Wolf Stubbe finally characterizes him as a “systematist, (a) man of intention” appealing to the  “reflecting  consciousness” – , already in the ’30s – published only in 1760! – in his “Fights of Killing Animals”, worked in association with B. H. Brockes (1680 Hamburg 1747), a verdict of the Alexander campaign of merciless rigour follows by identification of a furious predacious animal lacerating an ass with Alexander :

“ … But stop, your cruel picture impresses myself didactic ideas, too!

Should a world conquerer’s look not be still much more horrible?

Stirring up even more horror in ourselves? and must the fury of this animal not retreat in opposite to him and the untold corpses lacerated by his savage word?

Hunger  spurs  on  the  leopard , but  wantonness  Alexander .

If that sheds the blood of one animal, so this entire streams. Of 50000 of his own by iron bought jaws, come let us then look a picture of the Wild Victor so you can do so some day. His look, so far as you can hit it well, takes surely precedence over this bloodthirsty animal regarding fury, frenzy, and atrocity. ”

At which the 8-sheet fighting set serving Ridinger further as wrapping for coincident reckoning with the own absolute authorities – which together are his clients! – and therewith

as  a  torch  of  freedom  and  humanity

being  meant  for  the  system  as  such .

Ridinger – so Brockes at the same place – “even forces our free mind, he can move even the spirit And at will … excites (the) human feeling”.

Purely artistically after all the Alexander drawing reflects already Ridinger’s whole fullness and mastership. It is a pictorially and thematically richly created early work of large size with also horses + dogs as the signs of his fame giving an insight into the master’s subtle operation, too :

The  half  kneeling  king  with  diadem  before  the  altar
as  the  final  result  invisibly  mounted
over  a  more  modest  design  as  a  soldier  with  helmet .

Thematically the deciphering of the scenery is unmistakable :

Literature knows only three engraved and extremely scarce battle pieces of which one is dedicated to Pharaoh’s death in the Red Sea (Th. 916), the other two to Alexander as mentioned above. Whose sacrifices, especially as incense offering like here, are documented exemplarily.

Though the ruins of the columns on the left suggest his offering at Troy they are not to be overestimated compared with the essential scenery because likely used as accessories of ancient themes in general and especially as vanity. Missing also not as figures in Dürer’s Large Horse (ills. in Klassiker der Kunst IV, 117 or per Hollstein 94) as, so Mendes lately, a depiction of Alexander and his horse Bukephalos. Which he had ridden from his early years until it found its death in the battle against Porus at the Hydaspes in May of the same year. Regarded by Alexander as a warning finger of gods which he reminded in autumn at the Hyphasis.

On the other hand the river, but also the dominating foliage typical of Ridinger tell against the offering at the sanctuary of Ammon in the Libyan desert.

Founded not least on its strong vanity symbolism the picture as a whole corresponds to all intents and purposes with the 326 events at the Hyphasis in the Punjab as the turning-point of Alexander’s history and life. Here the Indian campaign found its end.

For which Alexander should have been instrumental on his own by having ordered his own race to throw itself at his feet, too, in the preceding year and enforced such by sentences of death. Crucial with this that he had been forced to punish so, indeed! A not at all overratable sign of advanced coming off of the king by which this laid

a  momentous  bud  for  mutiny

and consequently entailed with the shipwreck of his ruler’s vision shortly before the goal. If the soldier behind the king here, engrossed in prostration, a Macedonian so it is a further sign for Alexander’s late period and in such a way embedded in Ridinger’s conception of reflection.

The retreat – down the Indus up to the Ocean – began, the death followed three years later. Ending an unheard-of Achilleish life (356-323 B.C.). He was “the greatest conqueror of all times” (Meyers Konvers.-Lex., 4th ed., I (1889), 316/II). Who

passed  over  his  zenith  in  that  moment

here  marked

as  a  turning–point  of  world  history.

But with all the artist’s antenna for the psychologically great moment and the power to form it Ridinger here now contrasts the sheer noisily audible optic of conventional pictures, that means battles, as sum of what Alexander’s name stands for, with his chamber tone of reflection and

herewith  set  up  the  modern  history  painting .

This drawing will set a new standard for Ridinger’s rank in art history .

Correspondingly Alojzy Oborny, director of the Polish National Museum at Kielce, 1997 in the catalogue to the 1½-year Ridinger touring exhibition as “the largest one of the engravings and mezzotints of one of the most excellent German XVIII century graphic artists in Poland” :

“ This  artist  was  fairly  underestimated  in  the  past ,

but  his  rank  in  art  history

rises  higher  and  higher  in  time .”

As already in 1987 Rolf Biedermann criticizing stated :

“ one of the few German baroque artists who since his death 220 years ago never fell into oblivion, whose animal and hunt depictions are highly coveted by collectors till today, highly priced by dealers … so (that) the limited attention surprises the science of art has shown towards him so far … (and) the highly limited balance of his artistic appreciation ”

(Augsburg exhibition catalogue [Master Drawings of German Baroque], p. 338).

The quality of this early drawing for that group of Alexander events published by Herz indirectly supported by Biedermann’s reference to Herz as a publisher “with an eye for quality”.

And together this drawing with its splendid chiaroscuro is

a  wonderful  example  of  Ridinger’s  early  maturity  and  perfection

as stated repeatedly already with regard to others of his early works. So, among others, Ernst Welisch in his (History of the Augsburg Painters in the XVIIIth Century), 1901, p. 92, quoting Thienemann for the capabilities after his return – not before 1719 – from the three-year stay in the house of Baron (so Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie opposed to Kilian/Thienemann) Metternich in Regensburg: “(so that all connoisseurs admired him for his skill and power reached as well in historic as animal pieces)”. Or Nebehay, cat. 88, 2, in respect of the 1721 drawing to Thienemann 1: “(hence this drawing is of importance for the knowledge of his style already perfect in young years)”.

The  importance  of  this  work

dominates  above  all  by  the  artistical  mastering  of  the  theme
and  whose  uniqueness  within  the  œuvre
at  together  essential  attributes  from  the  typical  creativeness.
Besides  accompanied  by  a  size  as  standing  out  for  the  drawings  still  appearing .

In respect of the contrast of the outstanding subject here with Ridinger’s typical working it applies to what Thieme-Becker XVII, 302/2 state in regard to Hogarth’s religious works: “not only remarkable works on a field far from the real direction of his talent, but also evidences of versatility and mobility of his mind”. And there was

not  one  single  even  remotely  similar  drawing

in Ridinger’s bequest of c. 1849 drawings Weigel took over in 1830 (cf. Johann Elias Ridinger’s Art Bequest in Drawings within the 1869 Catalog of a Collection of Original Drawings founded and bequeathed by J. A. G. Weigel). Nor has any become known since then including the large sale of 234 items in 146 lots from the “Fine Collection of Drawings … by Joh. El. Ridinger from the Possession of a well-known Collector” by Wawra in Vienna on Mai 19 ff., 1890, or within the corpus of 95 drawings of the earls of Faber-Castell sold in 1958.

As  then  art-historically  in  general

the  depiction  of  this  world-historic  critical  moment  2330  years  ago

should  be  a  rarity  of  the  first  and  foremost  order ,

unparalleled and not exchangeable, necessitating an art-historical re-evaluation.

Shortly , a masterdrawing of German Baroque, And among these doubtless one of its most exciting. Only recently Ruth Baljöhr reminded of Hans Möhle’s remark of 1947 after which “the special performance of German Baroque lies on the field of drawing”. Added by Christoph Vitali attesting

“ still  enough  provocative  power  to  the  art  of  baroque ”

(Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Magazine January 16, 1998).

The condition still almost perfect as a whole. Smoothed cross-fold in the upper quarter only partly noticeable within the subject. Ultimately only a little disturbing the different tears in the upper margin up to 5 cm deep which all are repaired. Here and there quite fine smallest box pleats. On the back only still unimportant remnants of former mounting. – With a “IV”-watermark as can be proven also in the later graphic work and read as “monogram I V” by Biedermann in respect of the 1762 Augsburg drawing “Wildcats stalking Wild Ducks” (op. cit. no. 165).

Work specifically by the way belonging to the distinguished

Group  of  the  Painterlies

running, now inscribed as here, then remained unmarked, through the œuvre since the early 1720s in nevertheless obviously only most scarce examples representing like the watercolors and gouaches

a  group  of  drawn  rarissima  on  their  own ,


“ Pen  drawing(s)  with  ink  and  sepia  (recte bistre)

brought  to  effect  masterly ”

so F. A. C. Prestel on lot 71 of the 1879 Catalog of Marschall von Bieberstein’s Collection of Drawings with its rich Ridinger passages combined in 59 lots, among them the one mentioned from 1743 to the 11th Fable [Th. 775] as the one and only of this combination.  The  technique  the  master knew to win the whole plenty  of  painterly  light  effects  and  contrasting .

As for instance George Keyes notes on Samuel van Hoogstraten’s (1627-1678) lavished John the Baptist in Prison of the Rudolf Collection (Introduction to part I of the catalog, 1977, regarding part II, 95 of the same year):

“ (He) applies washes with a virtuosity and bravura

which  add  a  wonderful  aura  to  the  subject .”

Here , it  shall  be  repeated , adding  to  a  theme , that  is  already  unique  by  itself .

As  documented . – See the complete description.

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