Alexander the Great Rescued from the River Cydnus

Pietro Testa (Italian, Lucca 1612–1650 Rome)

ca. 1650
Oil on canvas
38 x 54 in. (96.5 x 137.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Eula M. Ganz, in memory of Paul H. Ganz, 1987
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    During his campaign against Darius, Alexander halted at Tarsus to bathe in the Cydnus: "But hardly had he entered it when his limbs began to stiffen with a sudden chill, then he lost his color, and the vital warmth left almost his entire body. His attendants . . . carried him almost unconscious to his tent" (Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander III, V:1–4). To the left is the aged river god. To the right smoke rises from the fire set in Tarsus by Darius's retreating troops. The picture was painted shortly before Testa drowned in the Tiber, apparently a suicide.

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Provenance

    Castelbarco-Albani; Paul H. Ganz, New York (by 1970–d. 1986); Mrs. Paul H. (Eula M.) Ganz, New York (1986–87)

  • Exhibition History

    Art Museum, Princeton University. "Italian Baroque Paintings from New York Private Collections," April 27–September 7, 1980, no. 47 (as "Alexander the Great Saved from the River Cydnus," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Paul H. Ganz).

    Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Pietro Testa, 1612–1650: Prints and Drawings," November 5–December 31, 1988, no. 117.

    Cambridge, Mass. Arthur M. Sackler Museum. "Pietro Testa, 1612–1650: Prints and Drawings," January 21–March 19, 1989, no. 117.

    Lugano. Museo Cantonale d'Arte. "Pier Francesco Mola, 1612–1666," September 23–November 19, 1989, no. 7, section 4.

    Rome. Musei Capitolini. "Pier Francesco Mola, 1612–1666," December 3, 1989–January 31, 1990, no. 7, section 4.

  • References

    Erich Schleier. "An Unknown Late Work by Pietro Testa." Burlington Magazine 112 (October 1970), p. 668 n. 52, notes that Paul Ganz informed him that he had recently acquired an unknown painting by Testa, formerly in the Castelbarco-Albani collection; states that it represents a scene from the life of Alexander the Great.

    Hugh Brigstocke. "Testa's Adoration of the Shepherds in Edinburgh and Some New Thoughts on His Stylistic Development." Paragone 27 (November 1976), pp. 16, 19, 24 n. 2, p. 26 n. 24, fig. 34, places it with a group of late works which he dates in the mid 1640s, and describes it as "possibly representing a scene from the life of Alexander the Great".

    John T. Spike. Italian Baroque Paintings from New York Private Collections. Exh. cat., Art Museum, Princeton University. Princeton, 1980, pp. 118–19, no. 47, ill., calls it "Alexander the Great Saved from the River Cydnus" and notes that the subject, as was often the case with Testa, was without pictorial precedent; agrees with Brigstocke [see Ref. 1976] that this picture is among Testa's last works.

    Keith Christiansen in Recent Acquisitions: A Selection, 1986–1987. New York, 1987, p. 35, ill., concurs with Brigstocke and Spike [see Ref. Brigstocke 1976 and Ref. Spike 1980] that the picture "appears to be one of Testa's last works" and comments that the artist's depiction of the event is "at once romantic and highly focused"; notes that the two figures who bend over Alexander are based on Raphael's "Miraculous Draught of Fishes".

    Elizabeth Cropper in Pietro Testa, 1612–1650: Prints and Drawings. Exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, 1988, pp. 256–57, no. 117, ill., dates it about 1648–50 and notes that the bold chiaroscuro employed is very like the effect that the artist achieves in his late etchings.

    Hugh Brigstocke. "Cambridge, Mass, Fogg Art Museum, Pietro Testa." Burlington Magazine 131 (February 1989), p. 177, ill., notes that it is "obviously a late work reflecting some disturbing presentiment by the artist of his own date with death".

    Alessandra Ottieri in La pittura in Italia: il Seicento. Milan, 1989, vol. 2, p. 900, calls it "Alessandro Magno salvato dai suoi soldati" [Alexander the Great saved by his soldiers].

    Erich Schleier in Pier Francesco Mola, 1612–1666. Exh. cat., Museo Cantonale d'Arte. Milan, 1989, pp. 310–11, section 4, no. 7, ill., dates it ca. 1648–50; notes that the only other example of the same subject, but with a completely different composition, is a drawing by Castiglione from the 1640s (National Gallery, Washington); comments on how the artist has successfully integrated the figures with the landscape and the general atmosphere of the picture.

    Important Old Master Paintings: Part I. Sotheby's, New York. January 31, 2013, pp. 172, 174, fig. 3 (color), under no. 50.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History