Alexander the Great
Precious Set of Four on Blue Paper
1651 Paris 1730
Alexander the Great – Pugnacious and Magnanimous. Four documented snapshots from the life of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.). Three concerning the Alexander campaign (334-324), two of which its Indian part. Four drawings in black chalk with grey wash, heightened in white, on blue paper. C. 9⅞-10¼ × 19⅜-20⅛ in (252-262 × 493-512 mm).
English private collection
Mounted by this onto sheets of beige-colored paper (15 × 23⅞ in [38 × 60.5 cm])
watermarked D & C Blauw
(Heawood 3268; “England c. 1769”,
if accompanied by the secondary marks Coat of Arms & IV
has to be left undecided).
By the provenance above mounted and bordered by antique gilt paper edge and two double pipes in black, the current final sheet bears the detailed mounting and framing instruction in pencil on the back, see below, as a frequently missed “highly interesting witness” (Anna Koopstra) of a life through the centuries.
“ Also it becomes obvious that the backs harbor many secrets
which remain invisible as long as the paintings hang on the wall. One might well describe the back of a painting as its archive since it is frequently plastered with labels and other slips (or, as here, written on) which disclose something about its history … (and) allow
to trace the origin or provenance ”
(Peter van den Brink in Anna Koopstra [ed.], Seitenwechsel – Gemälderückseiten und ihre Geheimnisse [2006/07], pages 4 f.).
Just as then also sheet 1 attributes the works by same hand erroneously to GB Corneille / Early School / Fonntainebleau / at … (trace of eraser) each, that is Jean (Italian Giovanni) Baptiste Corneille (called the Younger; 1649 Paris 1695). The Italian-dominated early or first school of F. already dates about 1530-1570, the Netherlandic-influenced later or second from about 1590-1620.
As decisively the famous first school has influenced the development of French painting, so different a background present works have thematically, being immediately related to
Charles Le Brun’s
Grand Peintre du Grand Siècle
First Painter to Louis XIV
Gigantic Alexander Cycle
on five canvasses of 117⅜-185 × 178⅜-498 in (2.98-4.7 × 4.53-12.65 m) from the years 1661-1668 – adequate engraved versions from 1671/78 in a designer copy beyond good and evil – as one of those of Louis XIV’s immortalizations for which for his premier minister Colbert “no expense was too great when the king’s fame, la gloire, was in consideration”. Here then le Roi Soleil in the conceived character of “Alexander the Great as Master of the Battle”. Whose personal aura could inspire the artists indeed. So 1665, creating the portrait bust, the great Bernini – “Especially as portraitist (this) has been the most admired master of his time for the extraordinary ability to represent the individual of the person” (Thieme-Becker) – said on the spot “the king has Alexander’s head”. With the result that “The magnificent bust of the young king … represents the self-assured character of the sovereign in an incomparable manner: it is something like Jupiter which shows from the monarch’s serene features” (each Weigand, Der Hof Ludwigs XIV., 3rd ed., Insel-Verlag 1925, pp. 59, 152, 43). And so then also in the present case
“ Final consensus was
that no one other than Le Brun
could have created (Alexander’s Histories/Triumphs) ”.
Those culminations of acting by a man whose name just is program by its own. “Alexandros … the ‘men protecting’, Greek male name”. Here then “the Great” (356-323 B.C.),
“ the greatest conqueror of all times, son of king Philip and Olympias … His first tutor was Leonidas … then from his 13th year on the famous philosopher Aristotle. To this the honor is due of having awakened in the impulsive boy the idea of greatness, that sublimity and rigor of thinking which ennobled his passions and gave his power moderation and consciousness. A. always showed his teacher the sincerest reverence; frequently he said to his father he only owes his life, to his teacher that he lives decently … Already in his lifetime A. was glorified by the fine arts as no hero of antiquity before him ”
(Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th ed., I , 316 ff.).
Picking the highlights Passage of the Granicus May 334 – The Morning after the Battle at Issus in Darius’ Tent, paying a visit to his family, November 333 – Decisive Battle of Gaugamela/Arbela 1 October 331 – Entry into Babylon Autumn 331 – At the Hydaspes or Porus before Alexander May 326 . To which grandeur
was committed to even more so as from the beginning and ultimately also personally close to Le Brun. So first as pupil at the Académie royale with a first prize each in 1668 & 1671, then as assistant in Versailles and finally since 1685 by marriage to a niece of Madame Le Brun. Whereas from a present-day perspective with him, too, the depth of the familiarity with ancient history surprises, here then
Alexander’s breathtakingly eventful life
based on Quintus Curtius Rufus’ description from about 50 AD, whose inevitable stringing together of fascinating events had
Verdier mutate to the artistic Alexander specialist
par excellence. – Quotations here from the English Curtius edition, translated with supplements by Johann Freinsheim by Peter Pratt, London 1809.
captured for his king
Grandeur of the First Appearances
and the king had it shine forth in copper
for the “sophisticated connoisseur and aficionado”
in drawing the sublime , the rather overlooked .
Stalking this is the old-school dealer’s elixir of life .
1668 appointed Agréé and 1678 active member of the Académie royale, Verdier, son of court clockmaker Louis V., continued his studies 1679/80 at the Académie de France in Rome, where he was appointed professeur-adjoint in 1681 and tenured professor 1684/99. “Numerous engravers, including (Le Brun’s legendary Alexander engraver) Girard Audran … have engraved after (his) drawings” (Thieme-Becker XXXIV , 233).
Signing his drawings – frequently of the same dimensions as here – supposedly rather occasionally only, he generally used beige-colored and brown papers, of which
the ones here on their blue paper stand out clearly
as such at all times have been especially precious to the collector of old master drawings and prints, not least as suggesting a special purpose. Stylistically and technically adducible here in this respect for instance Verdier’s 6-sheet set to the Old Testament on blue paper in London (British Museum 1872,0113,763-768), which previously indeed had been attributed to Charles Le Brun and of which sheet 767 was part of the 6-month Japan Exhibition French Drawings from the British Museum Tokyo & Nagoya 2002.
The mounting sheets generally not free of their age documented extremely rarely so charmingly, so for instance the upper edge with 2 cm brown glue strip on the back. For more see the now following detail descriptions as applicable.
Mixing up Father Philip’s New Wedding
The Amity between Father & Son is blurred when 339 the former repudiates Alexander’s mother Olympias or, probably more correctly, additionally weds Cleopatra, the niece of his general Attalus (c. 390-336), whom to regard as his mortal enemy Alexander has reason. Flushed with wine, that proposes a toast during the wedding banquet, calling on
“ the Macedonian nobles, ‘To offer libations to the gods, and implore, that the happy fruits to the king of the present nuptials might be legitimate heirs to his throne’”.
Thereupon “cried Alexander, his eyes sparkling with fury and vexation, which he had till now restrained:
‘ Wretch ! Dost thou call me bastard ? ’
and instantly darted his goblet at Attalus ,
who returned the outrage with double violence. Clamour and confusion spread through the company; and the king, who sat at another table, unsheathed his sword, in a sudden tempest of rage, and flew towards his son …”
( Curtius Rufus , op. cit., vol. I, page 99 f. ) .
C. 9⅞ × 19⅜ in (252 × 493 mm). – Drawing fraught with tension with the two opponents at common table, Alexander center front right, raising the goblet for the toss, limited nonetheless to the first great confusion and the general endeavor towards preventing the worst. Alexander quits the court with his mother the same day. 336 he shall follow his father onto the throne and the same year Attalus and Cleopatra together with both her two sons born in the meantime shall meet their death.
On the back aforesaid erroneous attribution of c. 1770 to the Early School of Fontainebleau in pencil. – The gilt paper border top right & below left each omitting 1.5-6.5 cm across the corners. An old tidemark starting out from the 7 cm wide lower mounting paper margin tapering off 4-7 cm into the floor drawing of the picture, but barely perceptible due to color and paper tinge. Ignorable faint fold trace fairly far right. – The glue strip at the upper edge on the back still tapering off laterally for 15 cm.
Offer no. 16,120 / price on application
“The Triumphal Apotheosis …
Representing the Crowning Moment
of the Persian Campaign … ”
Submission of Babylon without a Fight after the Battle of Arbela (1 Oct. 331). After the defeat of the Persian king Darius his general Mazæus, who had sought refuge here, surrenders the city to the victor, who meets him most liberally. Richly figured scenario below palms in front of the walls of the city. Inscribed in the lower margin: maceo … … apres la Bataille darbel Vien ce Rendre a Alexandre. C. 10¼ × 19¾ in (261 × 503 mm).
“ As Alexander was proceeding toward Babylon, Mazæus, who had fled thither after the battle (near Gaugamela “not far from Arbela [in Assyria, today’s Arbil/Erbil as capital of Kurdistan, one of or even the oldest settled region of the world]”, Meyers, op. cit., I, 318), came with his adult offspring, and tendered the surrender of himself and the city.
His overture was gratifying: the siege of a place so strong were a tedious operation: his rank was illustrious, and his bravery acknowledged, and he had distinguished himself in the recent action: such an example might induce others to submit. Alexander, therefore, courteously received him with his children … ”
( Curtius Rufus , op cit., vol. II, page 6 ) .
Le Brun’s cycle only picks up the subsequent situation ,
Alexander’s entry into the city ,
by Donald Posner (Charles LeBrun’s Triumphs of Alexander, in The Art Bulletin XLI , no. 3, 237 ff.) put into words summing up Curtius rendition
“ Representing the crowning moment of the Persian campaign, when the world conqueror received the homage of the ancient city,
the painting manifests
the inevitable elevation of virtuous royalty ,
the triumphal apotheosis .”
Offer no. 16,121 / price on application
“ This District produces Excellent Hunting-dogs:
They mostly unkennel the Lion ”
The Indian Rajah Sophites sovereignly welcomes Alexander before the Gates of the City. Richly clad with train-bearer, the scepter in the raised right for handing over. Set back on the left the city fortifications. Scenically painterly embedded figure-rich scenario with draped riding elephant far left turned to the goings-on, mounted by the governor only, the seat itself empty, on which Sophites without a doubt had come riding out, to dismount only immediately before Alexander. Quite so as appropriate to his grand entrance and in such a manner not specially mentioned by Curtius Rufus, see below. C. 10¼ × 20⅛ in (262 × 512 mm).
A possible inscription at the lower margin the less legible as if any mostly covered by the gilt paper border. – Faint fold trace right of the center.
After the victory over Porus (May 326 on the Hydaspes) Alexander advances further into India and subdues various cities and people:
“ Hence he advanced into the kingdom of Sophites. This nation, considered as Barbarian, excels in wisdom, and is governed by salutary customs …
In the city to which Alexander had led his army, Sophites himself resided. The gates were closed, but no soldiers appeared on the walls or towers; and the Macedonians were in doubt, whether the inhabitants had evacuated the place, or lay there insidiously concealed. On a sudden, the gate opens,
and the rajah approaches , with his two adult sons .
He far surpassed all the Barbarians in manly beauty .
Of purple and embroidered gold was his vest ,
which covered even his legs: his golden sandals were studded with gems: from the shoulders to each wrist, he was ornamented with pearls: the pendants from his ears, were pearls of extraordinary whiteness and magnitude:
he carried a truncheon of gold set with beryls .
Having delivered this to Alexander, he surrendered himself, his children, his country, prying that he would protect them.
This district produces excellent hunting-dogs: they are said to discontinue their cry when they see the game: they mostly unkennel the lion. To display their mettle to Alexander, the rajah caused a lion of uncommon size to be turned out before him, and four dogs, in all, to be set against it: they promptly fastened on the predatory beast …
Sophites left in his government,—
Alexander has arrived at the river Hypasis … ”
( Curtius Rufus , op. cit., vol. II, pages 306-308 ) .
Offer no. 16,122 / price on application
Homewards — After the King’s Manner
Most Heroic Moment ”
( Peter G. Tsouras , 2004 )
At the Wall of Multan in the Indian (today Pakistani) Punjab December 326. Forwards or homewards, there are enough empires and cities on the side which shall be taken along. In the case here even against the counsel of the soothsayer Demophoon. Who foresaw what would eventually happen.
“ (Alexander) caused the scaling-ladders to be raised; and, while his attendants were hesitating, mounted the wall: the coping was narrow; no battlements crowned the wall as in other fortresses … Alexander therefore rather clung to the wall, than stood upon it; parrying with his shield the darts discharged at him from the towers around. Nor could the soldiers ascend, overwhelmed by a shower of missiles from above. At length, shame conquered the greatness of the peril; as they perceived that delay in them would deliver their leader to the enemy: but now their coöperation was retarded by injudicious haste; for while all strove to mount together, precipitated from the overcharged ladders, they disappointed the only hope of the king.
In the presence of a numerous army ,
he stood as unsupported , as though he had been in a desert .
And now his left arm … was wearied. His friends calling out to him to leap down to them, stood prepared to receive him,—when he hazarded a procedure, unprecedented, and confounding belief; for personal temerity remarkable, far more than for illustrious generalship.
With a furious spring ,
he threw himself into the fort crowded with enemies ;
although he could hardly expect to avoid, either dying without a conflict and unavenged, or being overpowered and taken alive before he could rise. But, happily, he so balanced his body, that he pitched on his feet; and, remaining erect, proceeded to combat. Fortune had so provided, that he could not be surrounded:
near the wall grew an old tree ,
whose arms, exuberant in foliage, extended themselves as to protect the king. Against its broad trunk planting himself … for though … no assailant durst approach, and the branches intercepted more darts than reached his buckler. The awe inspired by
a celebrated name
fought, at first, effectually for the king. Afterwards, desperation prompted him to die charging heroically. But—enemies successfully flowing round … his knees, oppressed through continual exertion, succumbent to the ground. Hereupon those nearest, with incautious triumph, rushed in: on his sword received, two of these fell lifeless before him: after which, no one having the boldness to press close …
“Three corses lay round the king: his living enemies stood aloof as thunderstruck”
… until an Indian so launched an arrow two cubits long, that it entered his corslet … Alexander dropped his arms like one expiring … The assailant who had wounded, ran up with hasty joy to despoil, him. As Alexander felt the plunderer’s touch, it would seem, that disdain of the last dishonour to a warrior recalled his swooning spirit; with his sword, applied underneath, he pierced the enemy’s naked side. Three corses lay round the king: his living enemies stood aloof as thunderstruck …
(Now some of the best joined up with him.) At the cry that Alexander was within the ramparts, the Indians generally deserted other places, to rush hither; and were pressing his defenders … (who then) can sustain no longer the inroad of the enemy. Meanwhile a report that the king was killed, reached the Macedonians. What would have terrified others inflamed their courage; for, reckless of every peril, they broke the wall with pickaxes, rushed through the opening into the city, and slaughtered the Indians, more of whom fled in crowds … ”
( Curtius Rufus , op. cit., vol. II, pages 330-334 ) .
The Incredible Alexander Campaign Scenario plain & simple.
The breath-ceasing having no equal
— pictured here for the first time ? —
for Tsouras documentable only by a representation of the following treatment of the wounds .
“ But Alexander, like his hero Achilles, had been willing to make the choice between safety and the sweet ‘savor of a life of deathless renown beyond the grave.’ ”
( Kasyapapura ) in the Punjab
“ That single moment
on the wall
of the Mallian citadel ,
to him , was worth it all ”
Peter G. Tsouras ,
Lone Stand in India / Alexander’s Most Heroic Moment ,
2004 as cover story in Military History XXI,2 , page 80 ,
with Flavius Arrianus (2nd half of the 1st/1st half of the 2nd century after Christ) as the source used with regard to the rear cover by the way deviating from the earlier Curtius Rufus. So the wall itself instead of the tree by it as with Curtius and accordingly rendered by Verdier here, too. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., II , 648, generally qualifies Arrian’s report, based on “Aristobulus and Ptolemy … who both accompanied Alexander on his campaigns” as “the most complete and trustworthy account of Alexander that we possess”, whereas regarding the event on the wall, present Curtius edition explicitly rejects Ptolemy as to his own explicit manifestation “relat(ing) that he was absent, detached on an expedition.” And therefore indeed not experiencing
Alexander pure !
Today the exact place of the event a tourist attraction .
C. 10¼ × 19⅞ in (260 × 505 mm). – The identity of Multan with Maii-us-than conquered by Alexander is considered confirmed today. – Faint fold trace right of the center. – Verso by aforesaid provenance in pencil:
4 w(ash)|es (washed drawings) / … 2/26 (Feb. 26) / gold & w(ash)|lined
/ mounts & gilt frames / to … / AsK (?) R.
Offer no. 16,123 / price on application
And if you come to Multan , oh globetrotter ,
gladly one will point you the place
where the unerring arrow met the Homeric hero .
“ this is to let you know that the book has arrived in excellent shape, and that I am delighted to have it ”
(Mr. P. M., April 30, 2003)