niemeyer’s optimizes his historical quarter
2330 years ago
“ 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
MILITARY HISTORY XXI, 2, p. 30
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.).
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 ,
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
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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