Probably  the  First  Depiction

of  the  Hyphasis  Moment  in  Art  History

as  together  anticipation  of  the  change  of  history  painting

two  generations  before  J. L. David .

Ridinger’s  Alexander  Drawing  of  1723

as  maybe  the  most  spectacular  drawing  of  the  century .

Ridinger, Johann Elias (Ulm 1698 – Augsburg 1767). Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis in Punjab, India, in autumn 326 B.C. The zenith of an empire, a turning-point of history. Offering scene in the middle of the camp ashore of the Hyphasis (today Beas/Bis River, also Vjâsa; to the old Indians Arjilzi or Vip[as] River; tributary of the Indus). Pen and brush with brown ink heightened with white and with a 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. 489 x 524 mm (19.3" x 20.6").


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 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’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, 308-311: VII. (Miscellany: 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, on 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 Crossing 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 understanding it as his quite personal (preliminary) artistic result of this unparalleled life he intellectually grasps far ahead of his own, the baroque age. Therewith anticipating the development of the hitherto existing history painting

from  the  depiction  of  heroic  acts

to  the  reflection  on  these !

by two generations.

An art-historical merit for which 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) – , and, in order to consult directly fine art, the just 23-year-old Rembrandt suggests by his 1629 The Raising of Lazarus “that the still … familiar interpretation of the theme … doesn’t play a rôle for him anymore”, which startling picture his friend Lievens, 24-year-old, even tops by his radical 1631 interpretation of the prayer moment before the raising. “The relation to the newness shows for a youth, not yet ‘over-sophisticated’ by art tradition, (just) much less complicated than for many an artist. Only in the attempts and experiments the young artist actually conquers the interior access to the works” (Herwig Guratzsch, Die Auferweckung des Lazarus, 1980, I, pp. 92 + 156) –

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” (Th. 716 ff.), 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?

The  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 creative process, too :

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis

The  half  kneeling  king  before  the  altar

with  diadem

as  the  final  result  invisibly  mounted

over  a  more  modest  design  as  a  soldier  with  helmet .

So little dramatic these proceedings ultimately are so they stand, nevertheless, in context to a famous predecessor: to the 1642 half-length portrait of Richelieu in the profile to right by Philippe de Champeigne in Strasbourg (inv. no. 44.987.2.I) as the doubtless “finest half-length portrait of Richelieu” (Sylvain Laveissière in the Montreal/Cologne exhibition catalog Richelieu – Art and Power, ed. by Hilliard Todd Goldfarb, German edition Cologne 2002, p. 263/II). And

“ The examinations in the research laboratory of the Musées de France have proved a complex working out … Besides the radiograph shows that  the  face  in  the  profile  has  been  painted  over  another  one … ”

And therewith only doing justice to the greatness of this moment realized by Alexander. Shoulder wrap + armor (compare with the ancient warrior Th. 870, too) as well as the curls falling over his shoulders correspond with the Alexander of the Tigris Crossing Th. 918, but also the one of the LeBrun/Audran set (available here per 15,272). The decoding of the scenery itself 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 on the Hydaspes in May of the same year. Regarded by Alexander as a warning finger of gods which he reminded in autumn on 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, see below, the picture as a whole corresponds to all intents and purposes with the 326 events on the Hyphasis in Punjab as the turning-point of Alexander’s history and life. Here the Indian campaign found its end. 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.

Picked up by Ridinger with the artist’s antenna and the power to form it. – That’s  the  situation :

In Alexander’s back the exhausted troops ready for mutiny. In front of him the priests predicting peril from the holy smoke. The beloved Bukephalos fallen. Alexander himself in the stance of a realist.

The  deeply  staggered  scenery  embedded  in  moonlight

of  pictorially  splendid  creation :

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis / Priests

On the right the incense offering scenery with, i. a., three laurel-wreathed priests. Before the altar the king beating his breast with the left. His right knee resting on a bolster. Behind him a soldier throwing himself at his feet. If this a Macedonian so it is a sign for Alexander’s late period, too, since he had ordered such and enforced by sentences of death opposite also to his own race in the preceding year. 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

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis

a  momentous  bud  for  mutiny

and consequently entailed with the shipwreck of his ruler’s vision shortly before the goal. So the prostration here fits seamlessly in Ridinger’s conception of reflection.

Right in front before the altar two typical Ridinger dogs just like watching over the signature there. Above them a show-piece with two snakes as symbols of the world soul, arisen from the formerly widespreaded fire-service in course of which the Indian, Egyptian, Persian, and Greek fire-gods had been depicted as snake.

In broadside turned towards the altar the magnificent Ridinger horse ridden by one of the commanders with snake helmet. Deepened placed back the camp around the king’s tent. The cloud formation above the latter possibly thought as a hint for the hitherto existing protection of gods. But now

unmistakable  the  atmosphere  of  threatening  mutiny :

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis / Warriors

Key man here the already mentioned commander left behind of the king at the head of a mounted troop pressing after and not pushed back by him like an officer next to him does face to face to the foot. The face of the commander comparable with that of the officer of Thienemann 837 from the first part of the later set “Several Figures from Antiquity useful to History” edited in 1728. And the officer next to him later used again for Thienemann 876 from the 1756 set “Roman and Greek Soldiers”. Obviously not well-meaning also the three soldiers quite on the left.

Not less alarming the symbols of vanity following the 17th century Netherlanders and being a red thread also in Ridinger’s œuvre up to the Self-Portrait with Death as 70-year-old today in the Berlin Printroom (Ridinger Catalogue Darmstadt, 1999, I.5, colour-plate 9 + ills. p. 61; L’Art Macabre as above, color ills. p. 94).

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis / Broken Tree

Next to as especially strong illustrated by the boughless young tree on the left of the 29-year-old king broken by tempest, the longest chip of which rising to heaven like a warning finger.

“ A  cross  between  stump  and  dead  tree

represents  the  trunk  splintered  off  at  half  height  (windfall)

with  the  splits  of  the  break

being  used  as  graphic  motif ”

(Fredo Bachmann in 1975 referring to Aert van der Neer, Oud Holland LXXXIX, p. 221 + ills. 4).

Ridinger’s tree symbolism so emphatically documented by literature and not even critically discussable. And the latter not as long as tracked game met its actual huntsman in the end from front. Hidden behind a dead tree. So, e.g., on the early water hunt Th. 10 of the same year as the Alexander drawing with the branches of just the dead tree hanging threateningly over the water. Just in context to this simultaneous etching with the equating double symbol of dead tree + hunter with the stag taking to flight into the fatal aura of both the gloomy metaphorical language of the attributes of the Alexander drawing receives its final confirmation, whose multiple importance for the work thus can not at all be overestimated.

It should be reminded, too, of the half-dead tree by the wayside of the forced recruit on Thienemann 1148, Schwarz I, plate XXXVII. Then of the dead and the dying tree resp. on Schwarz 1310 – vol. I, pl. II – from the allegoric set worked together with J. E. Nilson, here with the significant title “The Wrong”.

That these vanity conclusions drawn from trees are deep-rooted indeed also Bachmann traces back to their important late manneristic sources and interprets “these occurrences as expression of the intellectual conditions of the time as it suggests, e.g., from the emblematic (cf. [Handbook of the Emblematic of the 16th and 17th centuries, ed. by A. Henkel, Stuttgart 1967: p. 226 ‘Oak split’ and p. 252 ‘Pine uprooted’])”. “Intensified in the highest degree the marks of destruction showing on those landscapes of R. Savery worked about 1614 which are known to us as engravings by Ägidius Sadeler” (footnote 27). And it is just a drawing by Savery (Tyrolese “Boslandschap met Jagers” from at the latest 1609) Ridinger quotes in the said water hunt of 1723.

To have called in Bachmann in the state of witness volunteered from his unsuspiciousness contrary to an intensified search for emblematic marks for their own sake. So in his noble monograph on van der Neer of 1982 thereto he finds very clear words:

“ Recently one has begun – if only it may be possible – to understand even the Dutch landscapes with their indispensable motifs as memento mori, because one had done so occasionally in the 17th century. There are particulars in the landscapes, indeed, –

the  Tree  of  Saturn , the  tree  stump  etc.

– which allow such interpretation … but at first we estimate the landscapes quite innocently as splendid painting and as pictures of great beauty and poetry. ”

(Fredo Bachmann, Aert van der Neer, Bremen 1982, page 83, footnote 97).

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis / Broken Columns

In this context then also the ruins of the columns vis-à-vis of the broken young tree and the offering scene of the Alexander drawing find their additional meaning and here especially the two breaks of the one and, worse, the quite new wedge announcing a fall into the camp. Corresponding with Jack Wasserman in respect of “the architecture breaking down as expression of the decaying Hebrew culture” in Leonardo’s Adoration of the Kings.

In such a way here then already reaching far beyond the still fully round disk of the moon as symbol of the zenith, though this itself inevitably is an attribute of vanity as well. For light and power are winged by sun. Corresponding to Altdorfer’s Battle of Alexander in Munich with “(the golden risen sun while the moon turns pale, symbols of the victory of Alexander and the defeat of the Orientals)” (ADB) 333 at Issos.

But in 1723 the 25-year-old Ridinger is no longer interested to depict a further Alexander as the contemporaries wish to see their heroes. With the 326 events on the Hyphasis he picks up another side of the man showing him – still – not less great, but on another field. On the field of a new civilized culture (recallably Alexander was the first who no longer enslaved the vanquished so these subjected themselves to him). And therewith

Ridinger  sets  up  the  modern  history  painting .

Sixty  years  before  J. L. David .

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, “Count”) 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)”. And in such a way corresponding with

“ In art great caliber is present in its perfection from the beginning .

Also  the  first  works  of  an  artist  have  this  caliber

already in themselves , in their originality , in their perfect shape . There is nothing of that development of the artist of which there is so much speaking .

There  is  not  any  development  of  the  great  caliber  in  art “

(Gershom Scholem in his 1958 laudatory on Samuel Josef Agnon quoted after Itta Shedletzky in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of March 7, 2007).

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 there is

not  any  other  drawing  that  could  be  compared  approximately

within Ridinger’s bequest of c. 1849 drawings Weigel took over in 1830 (see the Catalogue of a Collection of Original Hand Drawings founded and bequeathed by J. A. G. Weigel of 1869 and there the subdivision Johann Elias Ridinger’s Art Bequest in Hand Drawings). 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 analogous with Donald Posner’s (1959) assumption in respect of the Poros theme within LeBrun’s Alexander Cycle (available here per 15,272) Ridinger’s drawing here

probably  should  be  the  first  depiction

of  the  world-historic  Hyphasis  moment  in  art  history

and therewith a rarity of the first and foremost order . Unparalleled and not exchangeable . Necessitating an art-historical regrouping .

Not least the drawing is embedded within a milleniums old Alexander tradition. Moreover embedded in its own time as one of especially intensive Alexander activities on manifold levels. Only recently Dr. Krämer, the Augsburg curator em. of baroque painting, found out that the furious pen-and-ink-drawing by Anton Maulbertsch (1724-1796) of the inv. no. G 5244-79 truly is showing Alexander at the corpse of Dareios. See its reproduction along with the old interpretation pp. 316/17 of the 1987 baroque catalogue already mentioned.

The full inscription here is comparable to that on the initial drawing of his first riding school published in 1722 by Jeremias Wolff in Augsburg (offer for two of its splendid preparatory drawings on request).

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great on the Hyphasis / Inscription

Besides this full official inscription there is another, not identifiable three-lined, partly crossed out inscription in Latin and with numbers ( “17 fe … Erectium …”? ) on a stone just below the head of the laying one of the two dogs.

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”.

Shortly , a masterdrawing of German Baroque, And 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).

Since it evolved

“ in the 15th century … to more and more greater artistic importance … Now it served not only as aid , but  was  above  all  arts  as  the  direct  expression  of  artistic  ideas . Leonardo calls it not only a human discipline , but  a  goddess … ”

(Leporini, Stilentwicklung der Handzeichnung, 1925, page 46).

With watermark “IV” (Jean Villedary?, paper mill prospering for 150 years in Angoulême (acc. to Churchill, 1935, p. 21 from 1668 to 1758) and then in resumption or as a branch in Hattem/Netherlands, “sometimes in conjunction with the names of Dutch paper-makers” (Emma Ruffle) where his IV/I V for instance appears as countermark to the ones of C & I HONIG (about 1724/26-1902), but generally also abused as pirated mark like others standing for first qualities, too. We find the “IV” as a contemporary mark in the graphic Ridinger œuvre in many cases, for the drawings see also the monogram version “I V” on the 1762 drawing “Wild Ducks stalked by Wild Cats” in Augsburg (Biedermann, [Master Drawings of German Baroque], 1987, no. 165). And Villedary’s complete mark “IV ILLEDARY” on the 1736 Good Sport drawing by the younger Georg Philipp Rugendas.

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.

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 to pos. 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 thought one from 1743 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 then added by Ridinger to that situation he, it may be repeated, realized as unique, which not least 200 years later Oswald Spengler will mention with the words

“ It is well known that Alexander … fell more and more under the influence of his generals, who not only

compelled  the  retreat  from  India … ”

(The Decline of the West II [1928], page 407).

Forced in Alexander’s zenith. 326 on the Hyphasis. As a turning point of history.

Visualized  by  the  just  25-years-old  Ridinger .

As  art-historically  supposedly  for  the  first  time  ever .

Offer no. 16,114  /  price on application

“ I hereby confirm safe receipt of the two dias you so kindly sent us … Thank you so much for your kind help and splendid service ”

(Mrs. M. K., September 16, 2003)


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