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A legend and its image

The Aerial Flight of Alexander the Great in Medieval art

Victor M. Schmidt

A legend and its image - Victor M. Schmidt
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The fame of Alexander the Great outlived the man by many centuries. One of the deeds ascribed to him in the course of time was a journey through the sky, in a vehicle drawn by griffins, who were lured opward with a bait of meat. Among the manifold traditions associated with Alexander during the Middle Ages, this legend held a special position. No other episode from Alexander’s miraculous life was represented so often in the visual arts of Western Europe, from the late tenth to the early sixteenth century.

This study is the first in English to provide a full survey of the origin, meaning and development of the iconography of this fascinating story. The first chapter deals with the representations in Romanesque art, and traces the origin of the iconography. Moreover, it addresses the question of the meanings the Flight may have had, by discussing the image of Alexander in biblical exegesis and moral exempla, as well as in church buildings where the images of the Flight are still in their original context, including the cloister of Moissac and the mosaic pavement of Otranto cathedral. It will be argued that the Flight was considered an expression of marvel and force. However, when the image was represented in important parts of church buildings, it may have been conceived as the anticipation of the glory in the hereafter.

The second and third chapters analyse the illustrations of the legend in manuscripts. In the texts, the rendering and evaluation of the Fligth of Alexander may vary greatly, and this is expressed accordingly in the illustrations. The second chapter discusses in particular the manuscripts of the French epic Roman d’Alexandre (ca. 1185), the Roman d’Alexandre en prose (thirteenth century) and the Histoire du bon roy Alixandre by Jean Wauquelin (towards 1444 The third chapter deals with the image of the Flight in the illustrated manuscripts of German works, including the world chronicle by Jans Enikel (ca. 1272) and the Alexandre-book of Johann Hartlieb (before 1454).

The epilogue discusses how the realistic rendering of the legend in fifteenth-century literature and art, in combination with a critical attitude towards the veracity of the legend, caused its disappearance from the visual arts by the beginning of the sixteenth century. Appended is a catalogue of the nearly one hundred representations of Alexander’s Flight in Medieval art that are known today.


Originele taalEngels
Aantal pagina's293
UitgeverijForsten Publishing


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