Johann Elias Ridinger (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 (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).
Illustration: WELTKUNST LXIV, 20, p. 2687; MILITARY HISTORY XXI, 2, p. 30.
Literature: 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” [recte Jeremias Wolff, additionally documented for Herz, too, 1732 only], of these the two known engravings to Alexander qualified as “rich compositions”); Thieme-Becker XXVIII (1934), 308-311: VII. (Miscellanea: 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 incorrect obviously published neither by Wolff Heirs nor Herz.
Capturing that critical moment when both the reluctance 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 to boot. 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 Halicarnassus + 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, 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 deeds 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 acclaimed 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.
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 :
The half kneeling king before the altar with royal head bandeau (vitta) and – like on the coppers Th. 917 & 918, too – curls falling over his shoulders as the final result invisibly mounted over a more modest design as a soldier with helmet.
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.
Ridinger’s present drawing supposedly
the first representation
of the world-historic Hyphasis moment
in art history .
And the only one into the bargain. Necessitating an art-historical re-evaluation. Shortly , a masterdrawing of German Baroque. And among these doubtlessly one of the 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).
“ In the 15th century (the drawing) evolves … to an evermore greater artistic importance … Now it served not just as an auxiliary means, but stood above all arts as the immediate form of the expression of artistic ideas. Leonardo calls it not just a science, but a goddess … ”
(Leporini, Stilentwicklung der Handzeichnung, 1925, page 7).
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 at 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 Wildcats in Augsburg (Biedermann, Meisterzeichnungen des deutschen Barock, 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 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 then added by Ridinger to that situation he, it may be repeated, realized as unique
326 at 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 .
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