Alexander the Great as the Third King, from the Vision of Daniel by Adriaen Collaert after Maerten de Vos

Adriaen Collaert after Maerten de Vos

Alexander the Great as the Third King, from the Vision of Daniel, 1570–1618, Engraving, 225 x 262 mm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Courtesy of Rijksmuseum

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

Epic Entertainment

Commentary by

Like modern television producers, sixteenth-century Antwerp print makers were fond of stories that could be serialized. Serial subjects, such as the Four Seasons, the Five Senses, or the Seven Deadly Sins, guaranteed income from a market of collectors wont to covet the complete set.

It is no surprise, then, that print makers Maerten de Vos (1532–1603) and his engraver Adriaen Collaert (c.1560–1618) seized upon Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, with its attractive connotation of a chronological succession of four great empires known from biblical and classical history.

Their series of four engravings portrays Ninus as the founder of the Babylonian Empire, Cyrus as the founder of the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great as the founder of the Greek Empire, and Julius Caesar as the founder of the Roman Empire. Each ruler is on horseback carrying a banner, with rulers two to four (Cyrus, Alexander, and Julius Caesar) trampling the preceding defeated empire beneath them. Each appears against a backdrop with, on one side, a magnificent city, representing their empire and, on the other, one of the beasts from Daniel’s vision, emerging from the sea.

The image selected here is the third from the series, representing Alexander the Great. The Greek conqueror rides his favourite horse, Bucephalus; the artists show themselves aware of the meaning of the animal’s name, ‘bovine head’, rendering the horse with a distinctly cow-like face. To the left, we see the third of Daniel’s monsters, the leopard with four wings and four heads (clever exegesis linked the number four to the fact that Alexander’s empire was divided into four parts after his death). The city that represents Alexander’s empire on the right is built on hills and dominated by a great domed church; it seems to owe more to how the print makers may have envisaged Rome rather than to authentic Hellenistic architecture. Undoubtedly, however, collectors eagerly gathering the series would have taken delight in the wealth of detail that is on display.

 

References

Ann Diels, Ann. 2005/06The Collaert Dynasty, The New Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Woodcuts, and Engravings 1450–1700, Ouderkerk aan den Ijssel (Sound & Vision Publishers)


Read next commentary