Alexander the Great under Water

Object Details

Title:

Alexander the Great under Water

Artist/Maker:

Unknown

Culture:

German

Place:

Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, Europe (Place created)

Date:

about 1400 - 1410

Medium:

Tempera colors, gold, silver paint, and ink on parchment

Dimensions:

Leaf: 33.5 × 23.5 cm (13 3/16 × 9 1/4 in.)

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Beneath the surface of an ocean teeming with fish, King Alexander the Great sits in a bathysphere, a type of diving contraption, glowering as he raises his eyes to the couple above. Sitting in a boat, Alexander's mistress and her new suitor make eyes at each other and hold hands.

The story of Alexander's underwater adventure was invented and greatly elaborated upon during the course of the Middle Ages, especially in German vernacular literature. Alexander, who was a student of the great philosopher Aristotle, was curious to explore the ocean. He had himself lowered into the water in a glass diving bell, taking with him three creatures: a dog, a cat, and a cock. Alexander entrusted his most loyal mistress with looking after the chain that pulled the bell up to the surface. She was persuaded by her lover to elope, however, and she cast the chain into the sea. With the chain uselessly coiled on the ocean floor, Alexander was left to devise his own escape.

This miniature illustrates Jansen Enikel's contribution to the World Chronicle, the ancient history section.

Related Works
Exhibitions
The Making of a Hero: Alexander the Great from Antiquity to the Renaissance (October 22, 1996 to January 5, 1997)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 22, 1996 to January 5, 1997
Transforming Tradition: Ancient Motifs in Medieval Manuscripts (September 23 to November 30, 2003)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), September 23 to November 30, 2003