Philoxenus of Eretria's The Battle of Issus

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Student: Mitchell Quinn
Instructor: Deanne Beausoleil
Art 204 9:30-11:50am
Essay #1---Descriptive
June 30, 2011

The Battle of Issus

Sometime around 310 BCE an artist by the name of Philoxenus of Eretria created a mosaic (creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored material) of the Battle of Issus that has long been considered one of the greatest artworks of antiquity. Found at the House of the Faun in Pompeii in 1831 the mosaic is composed of about one and a half million tiny individual colored tiles called tesserae. The artwork illustrates the battle in which invading troops led by Alexander of Macedonia defeated the army led by King Darius III of Persia.

When looking at the piece the viewer cannot help but be impressed by the psychological intensity of the drama taking place. On the Persian side of the piece the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to the prominent figure of Darius shown in his chariot. A look of pure desperation, and perhaps even fear, is etched in Darius’ face as victory slips through his hands. As his steely eyed charioteer turns to rein his horses for a fast retreat to safety Darius stretches out his hand toward Alexander either in disbelief that Alexander has beaten him, or perhaps in grief over the death of one of his “immortals”. Around him are his Persian soldiers who mill in confusion in the background, their faces filled with fear and determination. On the same side, there are two other figures that are quite notable and demonstrate the artist’s technical mastery. The first is the artist’s depiction of the rearing horse right below Darius which is seen in a three-quarter rear view. The rider, his terror evident upon his face, glances back at the battle as he attempts to control his horse. This kind of depiction is very impressive and is much more accomplished then other similar attempts such as the shading in the Pella mosaic or the Vergina mural (Kleiner 142). The...
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