Altdorfer, Albrecht – Alexander’s Victory (The Battle at the Issus) – 1529 – Renaissance (Northern) – Battle Scene – Tempera

Negli ultimi mesi l’indice del mio romanticismo ha raggiunto picchi di imbarazzante decadenza mai registrati finora. La mia curva glicemica oscilla giorno dopo giorno tra vertiginose impennate di glucosio nel sangue e vergognose cadute di stile debitamente suggellate da sproloqui portuali di basso profilo metaforico. Invito i nemici a duello, minaccio di morire avvelenata d’arsenico, scrivo lunghe lettere d’amore che poi straccio piangendo; qualche giorno fa ho rischiato morire di collera stroncata da un attacco di panico. ‘Ho fame, non mi sostiene la notte, l’alba mi sconvolge, vado annusando il crepuscolo come un puma nella solitudine di Quitratúe’. Sono tutta un bollore, Caronte abbonami l’obolo e traghettami fino agli Inferi. Ho sete di vino, smanio ebbrezza. Sarei capace sniffare una striscia di Dash pur di finire in ospedale e movimentare le acque chete della mia tediosa vita di paese. Dove i draghi, i burroni, le selve, le mareggiate, i marosi. Devo partire, devo lottare, devo scalciare, sciabolare, vincere l’ira degli Dei, giustiziare montoni, sventrare orchi, accecare satiri, guizzare tra le onde di una tempesta. Datemi un’avventura che non sia un documentario sull’allevamento delle anguille, una sfida che non sia  infilzare un tramezzino con uno stuzzicadenti, un amore che non sia un bugiardino o un libretto d’opera. Cosa darei pur di essere il suolo su cui s’agitano le passioni apocalittiche di una conquista a cavallo tra Isso e la Siria, come in questo quadro di Albrecht Altdorfer. Che l’impeto mi calpesti.

This is the most famous painting of Altdorfer. Its subject is the victory of the young Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. over the Persian army of King Darius III in the battle of Issus. Issus was an ancient town in southeast Asia Minor near modern-day Iskenderum, Turkey. The battle in fact took place in Turkey, however, on this painting it is shown in the rocky environment of the Alps with German cities in the background. Altdorfer, a painter, engraver, architect and leading member of the Danube School of German art, is considered the first true landscape painter and a pioneer of copperplate etching.

Without the text on the tablet suspended in the sky and the inscriptions on the banners, we could not possibly identify the subject, Alexander’s victory over Darius. The artist has tried to follow ancient descriptions of the actual number and kind of combatants in the battle. To accomplish this, he adopts a bird’s-eye view, so that the two protagonists are lost in the antlike mass of their own armies.

Moreover, the soldier’s armor and the fortified town in the distance are unmistakably of the 16th century. The picture might well show some contemporary battle, except for one feature: the spectacular sky, with the sun triumphantly breaking through the clouds and “defeating” the moon. The celestial drama above a vast Alpine landscape, obviously correlated with the human contest below, raises the scene to the cosmic level. This is strikingly similar to the vision of the Heavenly Host above the Virgin and Child in the Isenheim Altarpiece by Grünewald, who influenced Altdorfer earlier in his career. Altdorfer may indeed be viewed as a later, and lesser, Grünewald. Although Altdorfer, too, was an architect, well acquainted with perspective and the Italian stylistic vocabulary, his paintings show the unruly imagination already familiar from the work of the older master. But Altdorfer is also unlike Grünewald: he makes the human figure incidental to its spatial setting, whether natural or architectural. The tiny soldiers of The Battle of Alexander at Issus have their counterpart in his other late pictures, and he painted at least one landscape with no figures at all–the earliest “pure” landscape we know of since antiquity.

via WebMuseum: Altdorfer, Albrecht: The Battle of Alexander at Issus.