This painting, by the Italian artist Francesco Salvator Fontebasso (c. 1709 – 1769), draws its inspiration from an event that occurred during the remarkable reign of Alexander the Great of Macedonia (r. 336-323 BCE). In particular, the artwork re-creates (albeit with some touches of fashion from Fontebasso’s own age) a scene that occurred after Alexander defeated the forces of Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Issus in 333 BCE. As the Persian ruler was chased off the battlefield, he had to leave behind his camp, as well as anything and anyone that had been in it at the time of the battle. Unfortunately for the defeated Persian king, he had left many of his loved ones in that camp, including his mother, wife and children. Therefore, when Darius was defeated and forced to flee, his family was subsequently captured by Alexander the Great. Arrian (c. 90-173+), a Roman biographer of Alexander, wrote, “Darius’ headquarters were stormed and captured; his mother was taken, together with his wife (who was also his sister) and his infant son; in addition to these, two of his daughters fell into Alexander’s hands with a few noble Persian ladies who were in attendance upon them” (Anabasis Alexandri, Book 2, chapter 12). When Alexander the Great became aware that he had captured the family of Darius, the first thing that he did was to send one of his companions to reassure the captives that Darius was still alive. On another day, he visited the captured Persian royals in person and made sure that they were kept safe. This meeting between Alexander the Great and the captive Persian royals is what inspired Francesco Salvator Fontebasso’s painting. Darius’ family remained with Alexander the Great until around 331 BCE, when he left them behind in the city of Susa.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.