Artistic Interest in the Life of Alexander the Great During the Italian Renaissance

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Fisher, Allison
Alexander the Great , Raphael , Italian Renaissance
Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) was the king of Macedon and one of the greatest military commanders in the ancient world. Before his death at the age of thirty-three, Alexander had conquered Greece, the Persian Empire, and northern India. Alexander provided a model of a secular ruler for leaders in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Furthermore, with the revival of antique culture during the Renaissance, the life of Alexander became a favourite classical subject in art and literature. My thesis seeks to examine the artistic interest in the life of Alexander during the Italian Renaissance. During the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, artists portrayed episodes from the life of Alexander for elite patrons, who commissioned monumental frescoes and panel-paintings, along with pieces of maiolica pottery, tapestry and sculpture for use in the rituals of court life. While Alexander represented a model of secular authority for the patron, he was also intrinsically linked with art. Alexander's court artists, particularly Apelles, had a legacy that was eagerly emulated by modern artists. This thesis begins by tracing the long literary tradition of Alexander. Accounts by ancient authors, medieval romances, and new humanist texts all informed the production of images of the ancient king. I will explore the earliest representations of Alexander influenced by the humanist themes of uomini famosi and Petrarch's I Trionfi, followed by the reception and the appeal of portraits of Alexander created by Andrea del Verrocchio, Valerio Belli, and Giulio Romano. I will argue that, based on evidence in the form of drawings, Raphael had life-long artistic interest in Alexander, and many of his designs were adapted by other artists, including a fresco by Sodoma at the Villa Farnesina, and finely decorated maiolica pottery. Finally, I will consider the monumental cycles of frescoes executed by artists for patrons, who had a profound personal connection to the ancient monarch. While the artistic interest in the life of Alexander seems to derive from the fact that he was an all'antica subject, as I will demonstrate throughout this thesis, this interest took many forms for patrons, artists, and viewers.
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