Master of the Griselda Legend (active 1490 – 1500)

Master of the Griselda Legend

Alexander the Great

Siena, about 1494

Oil and tempera on wood

105.4 x 50.8 cm

During the Renaissance, the historic figure of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) represented masculine power and expression. His dynamic pose in this painting magnified his importance as the all-conquering King of Macedonia, but also conveyed a youthful elegance. Today, Alexander has become a symbol of Queer identity. His jutting elbow and curving body may appear camp to a modern viewer, with a flamboyancy that subverts traditional masculinity.

This panel was one of a series of eight famous men and women from antiquity and is considered the most magnificent in the series. Completed for the wealthy Piccolomini family in Florence to celebrate a wedding, it was one of the most important projects of its time. The painted figures were all positioned on plinths, creating the allusion of statues. The crescent moons held by putti (winged infants) in the plinths represent the Piccolomini’s family crest. These panels remained together until 1820, when they were separated and sold on the art market. At least four of the paintings were completed by the Master of the Griselda Legend; only five panels in the series remain at full length today.

Purchased 1938 (No. 38.4)

Further reading

Barriault, Anne B, Spalliera Paintings of Renaissance Tuscany, State College, Pennsylvania, 1994, pp. 149-50.

Christiansen, Keith, Laurence B. Kanter and Carl Brandon Strehlke, Painting in Renaissance Siena 1420-1500, New York, 1988, p. 344.

Dunkerton, Jill, Carol Christensen, and Luke Syson, ‘Master of the Story of Griselda and Paintings for Sienese Palaces’, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, 27: Renaissance Siena and Perugia, 1490-1510, 2006, pp. 4-71.

Fisher, Allison Nadine, Artistic Interest in the Life of Alexander the Great, Kingston, Ontario, 2013, pp. 196-97.

Kanter, Lawrence B, ‘Rethinking the Griselda Master’, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 142, 2000, pp. 148-50.

Sperling, Christine M, ‘Donatello’s Bronze David and the Demands of Medici Politics’, Burlington Magazine, 134, 1992, pp. 218-24.

Syson, Luke, Renaissance Siena: Art for a City, London: National Gallery, 2007, pp. 235-44.

The Green Gallery Project

This artwork was part of a research project into the Barber’s pre-1600 Italian paintings.