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Video transcript

we're in the alte Pinakothek in Munich and we're looking at Albert outdoor first the Battle of Issus now altorfer is a german artist that in this case was working for the Duke of Bavaria and doog asked him to do a painting of the Battle of Alexander the Great against the Persian King Darius the third this is an incredibly important battle that had even been painted by the ancient Greeks this was a real turning point in history when the Persian Empire was stopped and Alexander was able to move eastward and enlarge his empire dramatically but it also took on a kind of outsized importance because this was seen as a triumph of the West over the east and therefore the triumph Christendom over Islam well later yes and that's really what this painting is about because the Persians were long vanquished and of course Alexander was long gone by the time this painting was made but the east and the west were still in tremendous conflict but at this point the Ottoman Turks were ushering in to Europe and would lay siege to the city of Vienna and the Duke of Bavaria was going to assist against the Turks and so one can imagine how important this ancient subject would be because it not only shows how noble this enterprise is and have historic but it also suggests that the West will be victorious and that that's God's plan that there's a righteousness in that victory and outdoor firm really communicates that in so many ways well I think it's really important to see this painting and all these ideas is coming entirely from the European perspective in the sense ultra fur is literally giving us the vantage point of the Europeans we can see a city just by the coastline perhaps the city of Constantinople just at the border between Europe and Asia but over on the right across the Mediterranean we can see the Delta of the Nile and we know that's Egypt there is this tremendous ambition in this painter that means that this battle is critical for the entire world and we have the sense of that in the cosmos and the heavens itself on the left the moon ascending and on the right the Setting Sun we've got the particularity zuv the battle when we look close we can see individual soldiers with Lance's and bows and arrows and the tumult on the ground of battle and not just a few individual soldiers but hundreds thousands of individual soldiers where the hairs of the feathers in the helmets are rendered with a kind of precision that is dizzying and at the same time as we get all of that detail we also have this sense of almost the way a general would sit on a hilltop and direct the battle and send certain forces in certain directions we have a sense of tactics and strategy here by Alexander and Darius well this is made for somebody who's going to lead troops in battle so we do have an extraordinarily privileged view here we can see the chariot of Darius fleeing even as the troops clash all around him and we can see that he's specifically fleeing from one mounted soldier and that's Alexander you can see that the troops behind Alexander are an orderly formation there's discipline and strength whereas Darius as troops seem to be spinning and fleeing you can see his standards his flags which are now in disarray so there's this complete collapsing of time here because on one hand this is Darius and Alexander and this battle at the same time this is the Turks and the West because the soldiers in Alexander's army wear the armor of contemporary soldiers so there really is this conflation and again although I think the artist was trying to be very careful about the geography it actually consulted maps or to put this together we have to remember that this is not a historically accurate rendering in any sense it is determined by its historical moment it is a view that is meant to flatter the Duke it's a view that is meant to flatter the West and to inspire the Duke and give him a sense of the righteousness of his cause and the fact that the cosmos itself that God is on his side