A pupil of Lorenzo Pasinelli, together with Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Donato Creti was the leading artist in Bologna in the first half of the 18th century. Although he never left Bologna (except for brief trips early in his career to Venice and Modena), he satisfied numerous commissions from prominent European patrons. Around 1722, he was hired by Owen McSweeny to work on part of the large series of Allegorical Tombs dedicated to great figures of recent English history (Tomb of Boyle, Locke and Sydenham, Bologna, Galleria Nazionale). His biographer Gian Pietro Zanotti, in his Storia dell’Accademia Clementina (op. cit.), records two canvases painted for André Maurice, duc de Noailles, Commanderin- Chief of the French army in Italy during the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1735). One of these is the Alexander and his physician Philip, now in a private collection in Italy (M. Riccòmini, op. cit., pp. 420-22). The present picture, showing Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot, is its companion, thought to be lost until recently re-discovered at Linley Hall, Shropshire. No drawings are known for the composition, but an engraving by Giuseppe Canale made after a lost drawing by Creti shows the figure of the young king with his raised sword (John Boydell, One Hundred and Nineteen Etchings, after the Original Designs of Raffaelle, Parmigianino, Guido Reni, and Other Great Masters…, London, 24 June 1775, pl. 32). Two later ricordi for Alexander and his physician Philip and Alexander cutting the Gordian Knot are at Goodwood House (Duke of Richmond and Gordon), where they are listed as by an anonymous hand (M. Riccòmini, Donato Creti, Le opere su carta. Catalogo ragionato, Turin, 2012, figs. 37-38).
We are grateful to Marco Riccòmini for his assistance with this catalogue entry.