This painting is a mediaeval representation of Ptolemy I Soter taking Jerusalem in 320 B.C. It is by French artist Jean Fouquet (1420-82). I’m not aware that Ptolemy ever entered Jerusalem; still, it’s nice to see him portrayed here – looking very splendid in his gold armour and fine beard.
In this picture we see Thaïs of Athens stand proudly in front of Alexander as she is given the torch that she will use to burn the royal palace in Persepolis. In a very short time the party that is raging all around her and Alexander will be replaced by fire – the scorch marks of which I believe are still visible today. I first saw this picture a few weeks ago; unfortunately, I can’t remember where or, for that matter, who the artist is. I found the picture again today on a blog titled The Honest Courtesan.
The above link takes you to a potted biography of Thaïs by The Honest Courtesan‘s writer, Maggie McNeill. As with all historical studies there are points one can dispute but it is a good précis. One thing it doesn’t mention, which I certainly would have, is Ptolemy’s discretion towards Thaïs, which is indicated by Arrian’s omission of her name in his account of the fire. Having said that, McNeill’s closing paragraph is excellently written and, interestingly, echoes the Venerable Bede’s statement about the bird who lies through the mead hall.
This painting, by Sebastian Conca (16680-1764), is titled Alexander the Great in the Temple of Jerusalem. Ever since I saw it over at Alexander’s Army a while ago I’ve been meaning to write a post about it but couldn’t because I could find nothing out about Conca. As I look at the painting now I am just as struck as I was a few months ago by the twisting pillars. They remind me very much of the pillars in St Peter’s basilica that hold up the baldacchino.
Note also St Peter’s arches which reappear in Conca’s painting. To the best of my knowledge, Alexander never visited Jerusalem or had any contact with the Jews. Why might Conca have decided to paint a fictional scene, then? To find the answer to that we would have to know for whom he painted this piece. Whoever it was, I wonder if he was not creating an allegorical scene – Alexander being his patron; the Temple the Catholic Church; Conca is directing his patron to God and obedience to the Church.
St Peter’s baldacchino was designed by Bernini. This painting, below, appears on Tumblr where I have seen it described as being a self-portrait of Bernini as Alexander the Great. I have looked around on other websites to see if I can find any proof that Bernini did indeed paint this work but without success. Do you know anything about it?