LE BRUN, Charles
(b. 1619, Paris, d. 1690, Paris)

Entry of Alexander into Babylon

c. 1664
Oil on canvas, 450 x 707 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Louis XIV was interested in the story of Alexander the Great because of his own special type of megalomania could see itself reflected in the Greek past. Le Brun accordingly executed the truly colossal series of four canvasses depicting episodes from the life of Alexander the Great.

This series - executed between 1662 and 1668 - was considered by the artist himself to be his masterpiece. The four paintings of the series are the Passage of the Granicus, the Battle of Argela, the Entry of Alexander into Babylon and Alexander and Porus. Like so many Herculean undertakings, the paintings impressed everybody by their sheer size. Later history has not been kind to them, but even so, tremendous energy burst out of every corner of these pictures, some of which are more than twelve metres long. The source, without any doubts, is Rubens. This is not the exuberant Rubens of the Medici cycle, but the Rubens of the vast hunting scenes and tapestry cartoons. Le Brun had in effect changed sides, as he moved from modest echoes of Poussin to a full-blown eulogy of Rubens.