Alexander the Great visiting Apelles' atelier signed and dated 'DELANCE 1760/P.' (lower left) oil on canvas 64 x 81 cm.
The story told by Pliny the Elder about Alexander the Great talking in length about art without any knowledge of the subject and how his friend Apelles advised him to be silent because even the apprentices who were grinding colours were laughing at him is one of these anecdotes that any artist would love to hear1. The picture shows Apelles, who, as early as Pliny, was regarded as the most important painter in antiquity,2 in front of his canvas, turning towards Alexander with an expression of exasperation, as the mighty king is commenting on and pointing to some detail in the painting. Amused by Alexanders remarks, a young assistant peeps out from behind the sitter, enlivening the scene and underlying arts triumph over political power. (Compare Salvator Rossa, Alexander the Great in the studio of Apelles, Instituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Rome and Jean-Pierre Norblin de la Gourdaine, Alexander visiting the studio of Apelles, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.)
1. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 35, 85-86. See also N. Chatzinikolaou, Alexander the Great in European Art, Organisation for the Cultural Capital of Europe, Thessaloniki 97, Thessaloniki 1997, p. 133. 2. According to Pliny, Apelles contribution to painting was greater than that of all other artists combined.