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Nog een suggestie voor het onderwerp van Rembrandts historiestuk te Leiden: De grootmoedigheid van Alexander

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

Of the nine interpretations proposed for Rembraradt's history Painting of 1626 now at Leiden, none is really convincing. Il seems attractive to think of palamedes Condemned by Agamemncm as the subject because of its political significance in the year after the publication of Voredel's tragecty Palamedcs or Innocence Murdered, which denounced the execution of the Remonstrant leader Johan van Oldenbarnevelt in 1619. γet the scene depicted does not fit any episode frorn the Palamedes story. It appears rather to represent three young men appearing before a crowned figure who makes a pronouncement, probably one of magnanimity or clemency. It is conceivable that the subject was taken from Q. Curtius Rufus's Historiae Alexandri Magni Macedonis, ofwhich several editions, including translations into the vernacular, were published in Holland in the first decades of the 17th century. The episode in question was known to the young Rubens, but does not seem to have been illustrated by any other artist. At the beginning of the seventh book it is described how Alexander summoned before. him in the presence of the army two oj three brothers, who had been close friends of Philotas, a former, friend of his who had been executed for plotting against his life. The youngest brother, Poleinon, had panicked and fled but was caught and brought back at the very moment when Alexander had accused the brothers and the eldest, Amyntas, after having been released from his bonds and given a spear which he held in his left hand, had embarked on his szzccess ful defence. The appearance of Polemon infuriated the soldiers, but when he took the blame on himself and prrifessed his brothers' innocence, they were moved to tears. So too was Alexander who, prompted by their cries, absolved the brothers. This anecdote does at least explain some of the features of Rembrandt's scene. The young man standing on the right with his right hand raised as if swearing an oath would be the eloquent Amyntas with a spear in his left hand. Hidden behind him kneels the second brother, Simias, while Polemon, 'a young man just come to maturity and in the first bloom of his youth', has fallen on one knee in the foreground, underlining his emotional words with his right hand bressed to his heart. Alexander raises his sceptre in token of his absolution and some men in the background wave and shout from a socle they have climbed. Interpreted in this way, the scene coralains not a topical political allegory but, as would seem usual with history paintings, a message of a more general nature: the magnanimity of Alexander as an 'exemblum virtutis'.


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