Paolo Veronese: The Family of Darius III before Alexander the Great (1565-1567)

(National Gallery, London, UK)

This magnificent painting is one of my favorite (click on the painting to see the bigger version). It illustrates a story from Quintus Curtius Rufus. At the battle of Issus, 5 November 333 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius III. Darius managed to escape but his family, his wife Statira, his mother, Sisgambis, and his daughters Statira and Drypetis were captured by the Macedonians. When Alexander visited the family, Sisgambis mistook taller Hephaestion, a general in the army of Alexander the Great, for being Alexander and offered Hephaestion reverence and pleaded for mercy. When Sisgambis realized her error, Alexander forgave her and magnanimously said that Hephaestion, too, was Alexander. This assuaged Sisgambis's embarrassment over her confusion and served as a compliment to Hephaestion. Veronese shows the meeting in a strange mixture of 16th-century and classical clothing. Alexander is the person in the red armor, he is pointing to Hephaestion with his left arm. The buildings at the back are fashioned like a theatre set with the persons at the front being the actors in this stage play. We, the viewers, are sitting in the front row and are able to experience the clemency of Alexander the Great. We are also forgiven for by Alexander by thinking Hephaestion is the Macedonian king. This painting was created in 1565-7.