Nicolaes Berchem (Haarlem 1620-1683 Amsterdam)
Property of an Estate
Nicolaes Berchem (Haarlem 1620-1683 Amsterdam)

The Battle between Alexander and Porus

Nicolaes Berchem (Haarlem 1620-1683 Amsterdam)
The Battle between Alexander and Porus
signed 'N. Berchem' (lower right)
oil on canvas
43¾ x 60¼ in. (111 x 153 cm.)
Nicholas van Bremen; sale, Amsterdam, 15 December 1766, lot 54.
Sir Robert Price, Bt., M.P., by 1837; Foster's, London, 11 June 1856 (235 gns. to Smith for Oppenheim).
Johann Mortiz Oppenheim, Cannon St. West, London; Christie's, London, 4 June 1864, lot 39 (175 gns. to Holloway).
E.N.F. Loyd, London; Christie's, London, 30 April 1937, lot 86 (90 gns. to Vicars).
with Vicars Brothers, London.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 9 December 1988, lot 97 (£90,000). Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 23 January 2003, lot 38, ($344,000).
J. Smith, A catalogue raisonné, etc., IX (supplement), London, 1842, p. 609, no. 48.
C. Hofstede de Groot, Verzeichnis der Werke, etc., IX, London, 1926, p. 85, no. 126.
London, British Institution, 1837, no. 47.

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Lot Essay

This painting, dating from the end of Berchem's career, is a rare example of a historical subject by an artist better known for his bucolic Italianate landscapes and senstive portraiture. It depicts the Battle of Hydapses which took place in 326 B.C. in India and set Alexander the Great against the Indian King Porus. Berchem has shown the frenzy of battle after Alexander and his army has crossed the heavily defended Hydapses river and is vanquishing Porus's army. After his victory, Alexander captured Porus, yet graciously allowed him to continue to rule his territory. It was at this battle that Alexander suffered the loss of his most cherished horse, Bucephalus who he had ridden into every battle in Greece and Asia. To honor his fallen companion, he founded the city Bucephala shortly thereafter.

While a rare foray into the military genre, this battle scene is not entirely unique in Berchem's oeuvre -- it is joined by The Israelites capture of Judea, now in the Dunkirk Museum. Berchem also exploited his skill in depicting dynamic and dramatic equestrian groupings in some of his more characteristic compositions -- see for example another late painting, Travellers attacked by brigands, now in the Mauritshuis, The Hague (see Nicolaes Berchem: In the Light of Italy, exhibition catalogue, Haarlem, 2007, p. 88, no. 48.)

Despite the large scale and obvious importance of the painting within Berchem's oeuvre, the circumstances surrounding the commission of this work are unknown.

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