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Work Alexander in Babylon

Department of Paintings: French painting

Alexander Entering Babylon, or The Triumph of Alexander

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Pomarède Vincent

Alexander, standing in a chariot drawn by two elephants, makes his triumphant entry into Babylon; in the background, one can make out the terraces of hanging gardens.

A grand subject, a lofty style

Charles Le Brun had chosen a grand subject and needed to find a style with the appropriate blend of gravity and solemnity. It was also necessary to maintain the legibility crucial to a work with so many figures, while conveying the diversity of the temples, vases, weapons, musical instruments, and costumes that make the scene immediately recognizable. Lastly, he needed to give the illusion not only of a moving procession, but also of a realistic city spreading out.

Alexander and the gardens of Babylon

Alexander, who had defeated Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Issus (333 BC), foresaw another battle to take Babylon; he was surprised to see the gates of the city open to give him a hero's welcome. Le Brun depicts the moment where Alexander, holding a scepter topped by Victory in his left hand, advances in a chariot drawn by two elephants captured from Darius' army. The hero, crowned with laurel leaves, is preceded by Persian trumpeters. Next to him three men directed by a mounted warrior (perhaps Hephaestion, Alexander's friend) carry a large golden vase. In the background one can see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; in the foreground to the left, a statue of Semiramis.

A celebration of Louis XIV

The four works were exhibited at the Salon of 1673, where they were admired for their great size and lively composition. An allusion to the grandeur of the reign of Louis XIV - who was also a great conqueror and powerful monarch - is evident, the political position clearly stated. The four works, later reproduced as tapestries, were part of the collections of Louis XIV. From the Royal Collections, the works entered the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre.

Technical description

  • Charles LE BRUN (Paris, 1619 - Paris, 1690)

    Alexander Entering Babylon, or The Triumph of Alexander

    1665

  • H. 4.50 m; W. 7.07 m

  • Collection of Louis XIV

    INV. 2898

  • Paintings

    Sully wing
    2nd floor
    Le Brun
    Room 32, temporarily closed to the public

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