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Verdier, Alexander the Great at the wall of Multan (Punjab)

Homewards — After the King’s Manner

“ Alexander’s Most Heroic Moment ”

( Peter G. Tsouras , 2004 )

Verdier, François (1651 Paris 1730). Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) at the Wall of Multan in the Indian (today Pakistani) Punjab in December 326. Fight after playing a lone hand by a furious spring from the wall of the besieged Multan into the fort crowded with enemies. Black chalk with grey wash, heightened in white on blue paper. C. 10¼ × 19⅞ in (260 × 505 mm).

Provenance

English private collection
about 1770

mounted by this onto sheet 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).

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 …

Verdier, Alexander in Multan (detail)
“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 … ”

( Quintus Curtius Rufus , Alexander the Great [about 50 AD.],
translated with supplements by Johann Freinsheim by Peter Pratt,
London 1809, vol. II, pages 330-334 ) .

The identity of Multan with Maii-us-than conquered by Alexander is considered confirmed today. – By the provenance above mounted and bordered by antique gilt paper edge and two double pipes in black, the sheet bears the detailed mounting and framing instruction in pencil on the back for the one here and three further Alexander drawings by Verdier available here, too, as following:

Verdier, Alexander the Great at Multan (back)

4 w(ash)|es (washed drawings) / … 2/26 (Feb. 26) /

gold & w(ash)|lined / mounts & gilt frames / to suit / ask R.

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.).

Thematically the drawing is 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 available here 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”, namely

“ 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 [1889], 316 ff.).

Picking the highlights Crossing 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

François  Verdier

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 Curtius Rufus’ aforesaid description, whose inevitable stringing together of fascinating events had

Verdier  mutate  to  the  artistic  Alexander  specialist

par excellence.

1668 appointed Agréé and 1678 active member of the Académie royale, François 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 [1940], 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  one  here  on  its  blue  paper  stands  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.

Faint fold trace right of the center. – The mounting sheet not free of its age documented extremely rarely so charmingly, so the upper edge with 2 cm brown glue strip on the back.

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.’ ”

Multan

( Kasyapapura )  in  the  Punjab

December  326

“ 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 [1910], 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 .

Offer no. 16,123 / price on application


“ I received today your … with excellent small Hollar print in good condition. It like me very much … I will send you my new order, naturally it’s possible/again Hollar print. Thank you very much for all ”

(Mr. Z. B., September 12, 2003)