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Alexander the Great

From the
“ Heroic Alexander ”
“ see a Picture of the Savage Victor ”

The change of his portrait in the œuvre of an artist
of the age of absolutism within a decade

The Alexander Group of Works
Johann Elias Ridinger

Ulm 1698 – Augsburg 1767

“ It’s breathtaking again and again
what offers you can make ”

(An international publisher in respect of a former Ridinger offer here)

Obsidio et expugnatio Halicarnassi, urbis totius cariæ capitis. / The Siege (and Conquest) of the Capital Halicarnassus by Alexander the Great. The battle turmoil – with boar hound chasing along just in front lower left above Ridinger’s inscription – according to the following caption in the first year of Alexander’s march, 334 BC, with Alexander on white horse (Bukephalos?) right in middle distance, giving orders to two warriors on foot. Engraving by Johann Daniel Herz I (1693 Augsburg 1754; an “art publisher with an eye for quality” [Rolf Biedermann, 1987], “especially his sheets of large size shall be mentioned” [Thieme-Becker, 1923]). In the mid of the 1720s. Inscribed: LXXXVII (platemark upper center) / Ioh. Elias Ridinger invent. et delin. (in the text margin lower left) / Senior Iohann Daniel Herz sculp et exc Aug. V. (in the subject margin lower right), otherwise in Latin-German as above and in the complete description. Sheet size 29¾ × 36⅛ in (75.5 × 91.8 cm).

(Alexander M. Tigrim superat … / Alexander the Great crosses with his Army … the Immense River Tigris … .) Alexander’s deeply staggered passage of the Tigris “without significant resistance” (Meyers Konversations-Lexikon) at Bedzabde 331 on the march to the encounter with Darius (III, last one of the Persian kings) with the decisive battle at Gaugamela in the vicinity of Arbela October 1st. Swimming along quite in front lower right above Ridinger’s signature boar hound as such one already present before. Engraving by Johann Balthasar Probst (1673 Augsburg 1750; “belonging to the best of that time”, Th.-B.) at Johann Daniel Herz I (1693 Augsburg 1754). In the mid of the 1720s. Inscribed: XCIV (platemark upper center) + 3 lines in the subject margin lower right: Senior Ioh. Dan. Herz excud. Aug. Vind. / Iohann Elias Riedinger (sic!) pinxit / (Iohann Balthasar Probst sculps.), otherwise with caption missing here. Sheet size 18¾ × 30¼ in (47.6 × 76.8 cm).

Decision to return at the Indian Hyphasis

Johann Elias Ridinger, Alexander the Great at the Hyphasis in Autumn 326 B.C.


a turning-point of history

Alexander the Great at the Hyphasis in the Punjab, India, in Autumn 326 B.C. Offering scene amidst the camp on the banks 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 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).

Reckoning with the Alexander Campaign

Johann Elias Ridinger, The furious Leopard (Alexander the Great) lacerating a donkey (as a synonym for civilazation)


Oriflamme for Freedom & Humanity

(Fights of Killing Animals). Set of 8 sheet. Etched/engraved by Johann Elias (1-4) and Martin Elias (1731 Augsburg 1780) Ridinger. (1760.) Large fol. (plate size c. 15 × 11⅝ in [38 × 29.5 cm]). Boards covered with laid paper and on front cover stamped in brown “Johann Elias Ridinger Anno 1760. / (With added excellent poetry by the highly famous Mister) Barthold Heinrich Brockes” in slipcase.

Each of the four positions

– Ridinger’s complete Alexander group of works –

is available by itself

When the 20-year-old Ridinger returned not before 1719 from his three-year-stay at Baron/Count Metternich as the Brandenburg envoy at the Imperial Diet at Regensburg to Augsburg “all connoisseurs (admired) … his achieved skill and force as well in history as animal pieces” (Thienemann). Should the latters dominate his whole lifework and become commonly to a synonym for himself, so the histories stand for niches of the especially early Ridinger. And yet it is quite authoritatively they which disclose the sociopolitical core of this master, as deliberately or laxly ignored till now, and by that en passant elevate him to an art-historical pedestal of rank.

Three brilliant history coppers are passed on from Ridinger’s (1698-1767) early ’20s. Devoted for once to Pharaoh’s destruction in the Red Sea, then in two sheets to the Alexander campaign with the 334 Siege and Conquest of Halicarnassus and the 331 Passage of the Tigris. All three engraved and published by third-hands as still not working himself in copper.

They are history pieces of the common kind, worked full of youthful passion in the face of fight and heroism, in the case of Alexander as practically one of same age at his time, just, so in a picture caption, opposite to the “Heroic Alexander”. In doing so worked quite surely also by a market-participant, whom the Alexander admiration of the time, especially of his Bavarian elector Maximilian II. Emanuel, too, had to be an object of commercial desire.

The drawings to the above-mentioned three Ridinger-coppers are not provable. But then a history drawing of the master from 1723 came up with signature + date along with typical attributes as horse and hounds, which was and is unknown as copper. And was here to be assigned to the Alexander works and here that world historical moment when at the Hyphasis (today Vjâsa; tributary of the River Indus) in the Indian Punjab in the fall of the year 326 BC the king realized that he must return. In the back the mutinous army he consults the incense offering as again and again the last resort for him. And that promised nothing good for him either.

And with this sheer externally now completely unheroic moment Ridinger takes up again the Alexander theme, possibly even wishing to bring it to an end. And shows a king who accepts this hour and therewith accepts the zenith of his own history, too. He subjects the rulers’ vision of the completion of the world empire at the Ganges as lying before him already seizably to the “small-minded” craving of his soldiers for going home to wife and child after eight-year fights, 18000 km on the march, and continuous rain during the last two months.

In his title story “Alexander’s Most Heroic Moment” of “MILITARY HISTORY” (XXI, 2) 2330 years later Peter G. Tsouras will term this scene under military historical aspect “the only defeat Alexander had ever suffered”. Suffered and went through following his greatest triumph against Poros at the Hydaspes few months before, illustrating it with the Ridinger drawing of 1723 here and the words

“ 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. ”

While after the two conventionally glorifying Alexander sheets above Ridinger now understands the psychological greatness of this moment

of one especially also intellectual capitulation

as the

unheard-of civilizing moment pure and simple

and as his quite personal (provisional) artistic result of this unique life he anticipates intellectually widely his own time, the Baroque period. By which at the same time he refines the hitherto existing history picture

from the depiction of heroic exploits

to the reflection on the same

in anticipation of two generations !

An art-historical merit for that in literature still the time about 1800 stands with the celebrated picture of the unproven saga of the Byzantine Field Marshal Belisarius by Jacques Louis David, soon to become a court painter of the republic, of 1780/81 as crucial experience and starting point of this new image conception. But that is sixty years after Ridinger’s Alexander reflection!

How then in the latter the crackling moment of the flowing coat of history is visualized, is not only

a psychologically brilliant masterpiece

by the only 25-year-old standing for just itself – in the same age or so Thomas Mann completes the ‘Buddenbrooks’ as ”establishing his international reputation” (Lennartz 1952), what still one hundred years later Heinz Berggruen let ask for the worldly wisdom and maturity for this, publishes Gottfried Benn with “(Under the Cerebral Cortex)” his first prose text which “he uses later as a quarry, so to speak” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 8-24-01 + 8-22-03) – , but shows him downright as

a master of modernity .

Whose here only perhaps – Wolf Stubbe terms him finally a “systematic person, a man of intention” appealing to the reflecting awareness” – still rather unconscious inner break with the heroic pathos already in the ’30s – published only in 1760! – together with Barthold Heinrich Brockes by identifying a furious beast of prey lacerating a donkey with Alexander a verdict of merciless rigor follows :

“ Do stop ! Your cruel image impresses also instructive reflections on my mind !

Should a world conqueror’s look not even be much more horrible ?

Calling forth even greater horror ? and has , with untold corses , which his barbarian word slaughters , this animal not to yield to him in rage ?

Hunger spurs on the leopard ,

but wantonness Alexander ,

Sheds that one animal’s , sheds this whole streams of blood of 50,000 of his own kind by iron claws bought by him , Come , let us see then once , if you can ,

a picture of the Savage Victor ,

His look , provided you get it right , certainly takes precedence over this bloodthirsty beast in rage , wrath , in foam , and horribleness . ”

This sheet belongs to the for the present only 4-sheet cycle of drawings for the Fights of Killing Animals assumed by Rolf Biedermann for the ’30s years with verses written by Brockes (d. 1747) and which Ridinger himself transferred into the copper, too, but holding it back for good reason. 1760 finally he filled up the set by four further drawings transferred by his eldest, Martin Elias, and for the publication added by verses in Brockes’ manner.

This addition to that risky original set by four further ones with verses now only à la Brockes and therewith harmless quite certainly and intentionally for the purpose to make the blatancy of the message of the former four less ostentatious. In such a way the addition at the same time as a final outer packaging. Conceivable besides that the final publishing is due to a good part to Martin’s youthful carelessness.

The reading of the rich captions contributed to the first four ones by, as proves here, a congenial thought could, however, have been come a bit to short of old, although, of course, being included in Brockes’ Collected Work. Refrained from Thienemann anyway this shortcoming regards oddly enough even also Wolf Stubbe, namely in respect of his statements made to those four basis sheets, though he dedicates Brockes and his captions a sympathetic own paragraph.

Those four core drawings assumed for the ’30s and so created only about a decade after the Alexander drawing. But what in the latter evoked with only softly reflecting, the interests of the common man, evolves in those first four sheets of the Fights set now to a word-mighty accusation against power-hunger, and therewith war, at the expense of the peoples.

To the already quoted sheet of the leopard (tiger) lacerating a donkey may be added for further illustration that it refers in respect of the decoration with mill-wheel to the domesticated miller-donkey standing in this connection symbolically consequently not only for the duped people, rather representing freedom and welfare of the country in general, which the attempted murder is meant for then likewise.

How far this verbal aggressiveness stands in harmony with the civilizingly so triumphant decision for return at the Hyphasis as thoroughly corresponding with Alexander’s traditional image may be left undecided. Interesting here alone that we come across the same toughness like Ridinger’s death emblematic as likewise definitely too little investigated up to now.

And this force of thoughts not only with the lacerated donkey. For in this connection no less strong in their message the other three sheets, too (The Horse and the Lion / The Aurochs and the Tiger [recte the European bison and the panther] / The Lioness with Cubs attacked by a Bear). Yet, even more, it is the question in context with them, if Ridinger-Brockes with the Donkey-Alexander-Sheet meant generally exclusively the Alexander campaign or if it at the same time not served as a wrapping in the wrapping.

For what at a glance appaers “only” as the damnation of the Alexander campaign, as the unison to the “Alexander the Damned” of the Near East (BBC/NDR/WDR 1998-2000, On the Traces of Alexander the Great), burns up when taking its history to an

oriflamme of freedom and humanity .

Whom Alexander served as a synonym packed once more in itself. The verdict was meant, at least at the same time, for the own, absolute authorities. Which on their part saw themselves in the succession of Alexander. The old Alexander admiration put forth blossoms at the courts. So like Alexander in 331 put on the clothes of the defeated Persian, so the princes put on in fancy the ones of Alexander. With the result to have the same stripped off again by Ridinger!

For the equation of the furious leopard with Alexander is at the same time and merely in one personified wrapping, unmistakable clearing up of the image in the telescopic sight. Further scenarios are intended for the system as such.

So it is said to “The Horse and the Lion” in succession of the marbel group on the Roman Capitol :

“ Oh save this fine animal

which the tyrant’s weight crushes !

It already is in the lion’s jaws ! …

I would like … to bemoan its harsh case ,

Yet (the) lion bares his teeth at me …

and even my quill startles . ”

And belligerent-powerful to “The Lioness with Cubs attacked by a Bear” :

“ Here … breaks out in blazing flames !

We see / The lioness … not going against the bear

Driving against , jumping , flying ,

and blind by rage inflamed by fury ,

defying danger and need and death

that its enemy’s superior standing ,

In advantageous position threatens ,

She attacks , as she could not else ,

… even the bear’s paws . ”

And jubilating to the “Aurochs (recte the European bison, Bison europaens Ow.) and the Tiger” :

“ Here justice shows up , here cruelty is punished ,

And revenged many a gobbled up animal,

The Aurochs … kills ,

with not unjust rage ,

By caution , bravery and strength ,

the bloodthirsty assailant ,

… One hears his screams of terror with delight

and sees with grace his pain.

… And discovers a stiff carrion left by its murderous soul .

… One sees how here the beholder’s look delights itself at the cruelty ,

We are good to the aurochs and take part in his victory . ”

But not enough with these four oriflammes. For even still in an optically outspokenly delightful and finally so harmoniously touching set as the Fables of the early ’40s, on whose stylistic development at least may be pointed out, accompanied separately by verses by Brockes, too, it is said to the posthumously published 20th regarding the hare escaped from three dogs on a rock where a falcon beats

Johann Elias Ridinger, Innocence suppressed by an invent pretext

the innocence suppressed by an invent pretext ”:

“ Enough one charges the poor with ,

What never he had done .

The fresh rage of the mighty birds

hits very often still the weak hare!”

Or as posthumously likewise including Martin Elias it is said in the caption to his father’s

Johann Elias Ridinger, Here the Heron's Blood

hunting on herons by he-cats

from the 1779 set of the Incidents

“ And so frequently , too , the good poor man

with his virtue has to give way to the mighty and rich ”

But comfortingly to their sheet III

with the hare beaten by an eagle owl

Johann Elias Ridinger, The Poor Hare becomes the Owl's and this the Hunter's Prey

which on its part strikes the hunter’s ball :

“ He who suppresses weaker ones

should not rejoice too much .

For quite easily a stronger one comes over him .”

And sometimes that can be the people very quickly, too. So in France only ten years later, some more 210 further years in Leipsic and Berlin. And now and then the robbers tan their’s hide also mutually. As e.g. on the fascinating Berlin oil Beasts of Prey and Killed Stag purchased from old Leipsic family property in 1985 and in its creation brought in connection with the Fights set above.

It surprises how all this should have remained hidden to such an accurate piece-by-piece reviewer as Thienemann. For this group of four, and surely just by chance, but nevertheless strangely enough, just this is identical with the only still four sheets of the set republished by Engelbrecht-Herzberg in 1824 anymore, should be quite elitist with its massive social criticism in the art of its time. Not to be missed then, too, the locations of its authors. Augsburg, governed democratically for a long period already in the Middle Ages, and Hamburg were Imperial Cities!

Those who have not experienced the dictatorships of the browns and reds in our more recent history, also ignoring present official movements, may be skeptical towards these considerations. But they just have missed those little satisfactions easing everydaylife there, have not heard the vent applause when Schiller’s ”Give freedom of thought” resounded from the stage, jubilated it in Leonore/Fidelio “To freedom, to freedom”! By the way it was just an East German pre-turn movie on Beethoven that emphasized the political rebelliousness of his early years in Vienna to the point one could not and would not go for his throat.

Even though baroque artists used to be masters in the wrapping up of such messages – quoted may be Eduard Beaucamp’s

“ the Baroque itself opened the eyes

for the complicated relation of modern artists with the powers “

– , something like that remained and remains highly risky nevertheless! Ten worst years Hohen-Asperg as one knows Schubart (1743-1791) got – reduced to the essential – for his epigram “When Dionys stopped to be a tyrant, Then he became a little schoolmaster”. Duke Charles Eugene of Wurttemberg (1728-1793) as founder of the Karlsschule felt addressed. Its foundation in 1770 happened in the late period of the duke’s excessive regime who promised on his 50th birthday 1778 his restrain announced from the pulpit.

This well-known example also has indirect reference to Ridinger. For with the sheets Th. 288, 326 + 327 later also Charles Eugene is represented in the œuvre, is he independent of the time a classical example of that part of the clients for whom Ridinger-Brockes intended their set of four of the Fights. The danger paired with high economical risk at least for Ridinger is obvious. Thienemann, one hundred years later, preferred to ignore such aspects and dedicated to his sovereign with his Ridinger book the image of a good fellow. Not comprehended in his complexity, underrated in his artistry, inadequately honoured in his personality.

In the case of the message of the Fights this reproach is meant for the younger authors Stubbe and Morét, too. For the ‘harmless’ Ridinger of conventional understandung never has lived.

“ He even forces our free thought ,

he even can move the spirit

And excite at will the human mind “,

as Brockes says in advance to the Donkey-Alexander-Sheet.

So the additional fascinating of this group of four of the Fights finally is its earliness again. For it stands naturally already in context with the “urge for freedom and humanity of (its) century” (Meyers), the epoch of Storm and Stress of its old and the hour of birth of the new world. But all this determined only the second half

of the century! Then Brockes already had passed away, were his texts and Ridinger’s designs ready since long, being decades ahead of the movements lying in the air. Also a separation of these texts and pictures is out. It was Ridinger who after holding them back so long invariably identified himself with these texts still fif-teen/twenty years later. And regarding the Alexander damnation therewith in the age answered the question of his own youth, which out of necessity had to emerge from the drawing of 1723.

So is not only the social critical earliness of this set fascinating, but at the same time in highest degree its construction. How here on the one hand an old theme, the Alexander campaign, is sovereignly brought to a close and is set into parallelism with a new one developed from it is, indeed, brilliant.

And has us indeed doubt if intellectually Ridinger was in unison with his time. Let’s not believe in coincidences with him! Stubbe, it may be repeated, called him a systematic person and a meditative didactic one … “who keeps the spontaneous creator later permanently under control”!

And from this constellation more than two hundred and fifty years ago he drew in concert with Brockes the image of a conqueror as it would present itself to us today without the glorifying distance of two millenniums. Not without having one’s own time recognize itself in this picture. And neither without conveying the certainty that pride goes before a fall and abuse of power will not be without expiation. The Storming of the Bastille sends her regards.

Art can be so fascinating indeed !

For that Ridinger’s Alexander group of works is to be read two-layered is perfectly obvious. Doubtless acquainted with the Audran/Edelinck set after Le Brun as a success story, the creatively striving young master in his historical assiduity, his own looking up at Alexander, right away saw a call for action, the chance to complement Le Brun’s cycle of fame by such important stations as Halicarnassus, the Passage of the Tigris/Gaugamela and …, yes, indeed, Hyphasis-return-defeat as downright inexcusable Parisian sin of omission. So the one, where for the 25-year-old with his still fresh moral sensibility the latter grew to the decisive thought-provoking impulse, to the meditative halt, to the departure to a new view of Alexander, see above. And by this to the other side of the coin, leading to the sheets of the Fights of the following decade, even though into the master’s discreet portfolios only. From which ultimately to be brought to light in 1760, garnished nonetheless with four innocuous, very recent further ones, fresh bravado and nascent chances answered for. 29 years more and the world would be richer by one history-charged milestone.

And as thematically melded Audran’s/Le Brun’s & Ridinger’s engraved works come along, so contrary the sources of their ultimate ensoulment. There the still unalloyed sun of grace of the great Louis as the spiritus rector, over here soon enough first scrutinizing, then stating and finally spirited grandchildren. Still one generation on and France, regaining the ball, will raise a socio-political tabula rasa to the reason of state.

Glorification , dissociation , damnation . Yet time steadies everything. And leaves

Alexander in the fascination

of the fame history has awarded to him .

“ It is breathtaking again and again what offers you can make.” So an international publisher on a previous Ridinger offer here. He was too short-sighted. For only Ridinger himself renders suchlike possible. For

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

Even 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 talking .

There is no development of the great caliber in art ”

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

And, so Jonas Lesser in Thomas Mann in der Epoche seiner Vollendung, 1952, page 7 :

“ Hermann Hesse once had a painter scoff at the pedantry of art critics who delight in having the œuvre of an artist ‘fall apart’ ‘into three distinctly distinguishable periods’. Of course a true artist’s lifetime work knows nothing of such periods, what he brings forth in the course of a short or long life forms an organic unity,

is a distinctive cosmos

which vouches for him and outlives his transient part . ”

Last updated December 18, 2022.

  1. Wolf Stubbe. Johann Elias Ridinger. Hamburg + Berlin, Parey, 1966, p. 6
  2. (Rolf Biedermann,) Johann Elias Ridinger 1698-1967. Katalog der Ausstellung der Städtischen Kunstsammlungen Augsburg 1967, no. 75, but regarding the four supplementary drawings to Th. 720-723 (nos. 389-392 of the Ridinger appendix of the 1869 Weigel Catalog of the left drawings) in unawareness of their later time of origin as worked by Ridinger only in 1760 for the publishing of the set. Biedermann was erroneously of the opinion all eight ones should have been worked in the ’30s and etched completely by Martin Elias later.
  3. See Johann Andreas Wolff’s (1652 Munich 1716) sketches in Augsburg and Stuttgart for the ceiling fresco of the dressing-room of Elector Max Emanuel within the so-called Alexander rooms of the Munich residence (Biedermann, Meisterzeichnungen des deutschen Barock aus dem Besitz der Städtischen Kunstsammlungen Augsburg. Ibid. 1987, pp. 184 f. with ills.).
  4. So especially the 20th and latest one (traded here in its preparatory drawing in reverse with a hound more and inscribed as “Fab. 31”), but still more the 17th appear from today’s view as examples of a remarkably advanced artistic power of expression in favor of a sovereignly concipated large flat lucidity, not perceived by Thienemann critizising their quality. Assumed the not etched one numbered with 30 and known to Thienemann as well as other further ones mentioned by him only overall and as unnumbered and unused, they all would correspond with this younger style, so this could be the cause why Ridinger let rest the set with only 16 sheet. For only Martin Elias filled it up posthumously on twenty by means of his father’s drawings left behind. According to this the master would have shied at an analysis with the own work or, at least, would not have made up his mind about these. For at the success of the suite, at the reaction especially by the youth mentioned expressly as target group can it not have lain as proved on the basis of several printing states of the title documenting further editions. In any case the great rareness of the closing sheets 17-20 therewith was programmed. Annotated in this connection, however, that Ridinger also for the posthumously finally 101-sheet set of the Most Wondrous Deer had concipated the title already in 1752 and in the following years had shown a project tiredness, which only about 1763 was overcome by decisive engagement of Martin Elias, too.
  5. Staatliche Museen Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, serial cat. no. 2272. See Reinhart Michaelis, Die Deutschen Gemälde des 18. Jahrhunderts – Kritischer Bestandskatalog, Bln. 2002, pp. 173 f. with color ills.
  6. “Once Germany was the land of poets and thinkers. Today it develops more and more into the land of the prohibition of thinking” (Handelsblatt, April 2, 2015).
  7. Horst Seemann. Beethoven. Days of a Life. DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme 1976. – On DVD 19741 together with the no less grand autonomous DEFA documentary Ludwig van Beethoven of 1954 as EXTRA.
  8. See hereto also de Castro Rocha, Montaigne’s Cannibals, as a discussion with the European wars of religion directed especially against the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in France, but wrapped in “The Savages of Brasil” like before him also the Protestant Jean de Léry on the occasion of his Brasil records (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung September 6, 2000).
  9. Eduard Beaucamp. Der Krieg der Maler fand nicht statt, Koexistenz im Barock …, in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of June 6, 1998.
  10. Stefan Morét. Die Tierdarstellungen von Johann Elias Ridinger. Darmstadt, Stiftung Hessischer Jägerhof, 1999.

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