Monday, December 6, 2010

Battle of Issus

The Battle of Issus is one of the most iconic and earliest battle scenes that the art world has found preserved.  State-of-the-art for its time, the method with which this mosaic was constructed did not rely on the more rudimentary methods of using pebbles to create the picture. Instead, tesserae was used, a method that employs cut glass to create a more accurate and smoother depiction of the desired scene. The fact that such a technique was used for this elaborate palace mosaic speaks to the importance that was tied to the moment in history it features. Not only was it placed in the prominent House of Faan in Pompeii, but also, two decades after the triumphant battle, this event finds itself immortalized in the private homes of high society. The mosaic itself is stirring in both composition and detail. Often, the use of light within this crowded, tumultuous piece receives great praise. Through tiny pieces of glass, “the Greek painter here truly opened a window into a world filled not only with figures, trees, and sky but also with light” (Kleiner, 142).  Still, while not oppressive in color or lighting, the mosaic certainly delivers the chaotic nature of war.  Horses displayed in all different views run erratically among the men; one man can even be seen among the mosaic’s fragments crouching and looking up nervously between the turning hooves of the horse above.  Javelins fly and stab at various angles, seen impaling soldiers and leaving the hands of those still imbued with enough strength to fight. At the bottom of the picture, a soldier can even be seen watching his own dying reflection in the ineffectual shield that now lays unused on top of him. The reality of war’s disorderly nature is made clear, but the smaller details reveal the artist’s sentiment regarding such combat. With the exception of the dying horse in the middle of the mosaic, there is not a trace of blood within this piece. While destruction is evident, the reality of its gruesomeness, especially given the methods of combat of the time, is not revealed and instead replaced with an idealized scene of approaching victory. The intention of this painting is also clear in the way in which Alexander and Darius are characterized. Alexander’s gaze appears focused, intent on solidifying his superiority, while Darius flees, accompanied by his harried charioteer, stretching out a hand as a menial expression of submission or a merciful request.  Clearly, the actual victory, shown in progress within this mural, was one that commissioners of this piece reveled in, and so it stands praised for eternity in glass tiles. 

1 comment:

  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.