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The Battle of Alexander at Issus remains Albrecht Altdorfer's most famous painting of all, but its constituent parts are not actually in keeping with the rest of his career.
Altdorfer put together The Battle of Alexander at Issus in 1529, at which point he would have been in his late forties, and already a truly accomplished painter. This piece captures many of the artistic qualities that marked him out as a significant German artist, with a sprawling landscape, and extraordinary attention to detail in the grouping of figures.
There are three main sections to this composition, with the foreground capturing the battle itself. which was fought in 333BC. The forces of Alexander the Great successfully took on those of Darius III of Persia, in which was to be an important strategic victory. This momentous, breaktaking artworks is now in the permanent collection of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Germany.
The artist made use of a large wooden panel for this piece, which is around 158 cm in height. The foreground details the battle at its fiercest, with lances drawn and horses charging towards the opposition. Flags reprsent the opposing sides, and the artist may well have made use of his large studio in order to complete such a detailed piece - The Battle of Alexander at Issus remains the most famous painting of his career.
The artist explains this historical context with a plaque floating in the sky. Across the centre of the painting we then get to appreciate the artist's renowned landscape painting talents. We are placed at the top of a hill, looking down on events as they unfold. Beyond the battle we see a hillside town with further buildings in the distance. There is then a wide expanse of water broken up with small islands and hills which drift away as the sky above hovers menacingly above.
Stylistic Innovations by Altdorfer
The landscape elements to this painting were highly typical of Albrecht Altdorfer, with the vertical dimensions that he tended to use for his landscape paintings. He was rare at this time for making use of real locations in his work, rather than idealised views that were a culmination of different experiences. Italian artists had tended to do the latter within the Renaissance. Many of Altdorfer's locations have been identified since.
Complex Array of Figurative Art
The huge numbers of figures within the painting is unusual for the artist, but not completely unique. As a commissioned artwork, perhaps he had to give way on some elements of the composition. The choice to depict this battle would surely have been requested directly from the donor as normally he preferred to capture landscape scenes with little or no human activity.
Legacy as a Painter
Whilst being a multi-talented artist who impressed in several different disciplines, it was his paintings that truly left the greatest impression. It was also his concentration on landscape art that was particularly significant, especially in how it achieved acceptance for this genre for the first time. His etchings and drawings would not always contain the same level of care and attention as his paintings, which he clearly saw as his main concern.