(b. ca. 1480, Regensburg, d. 1538, Regensburg)

The Battle of Alexander

Oil tempera on wood, 158 x 120 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

This is the most famous painting of Altdorfer. Its subject is the victory of the young Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. over the Persian army of King Darius in the battle of Issos. The battle in fact took place in Turkey, however, on this painting it is shown in the rocky environment of the Alps with German cities in the background.

The viewer, endowed with telescopic vision, witnesses the battle and the cosmic landscape. The ebb and flow of battle makes it difficult initially to distinguish the two sides. Altdorfer dressed the Macedonians like German knights and landsknechts (mercenary foot-soldiers), while the Persian warriors sport turbans and exotic attires. Hundreds of riders and foot-soldiers skirmish within sight of their battle standards. Darius' chariot, with mounted steel blades, cuts a path through the throng. Alexander, riding on Bucephalus, and some of his knights are in close pursuit. Darius escaped but at great cost: according to the tablet above, 100.000 Persian soldiers and 10.000 riders died. Although the actual toll was lower, Darius' army was decimated and his family was captured.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 12 minutes):
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber: The Battle, suite