The function of the painting is not known: was it painted as a stand-alone work for some noble palazzo or as part of a greater whole celebrating the achievements of Alexander the Great? The subject matter of the painting, which is merely an “excerpt” from Alexander’s story, would seem to indicate that the work is part of a larger whole, although given the format of the painting, such a cycle would almost certainly have been limited to just a few canvases. On the other hand, there are no paintings that could be linked to a hypothetical cycle on the life of Alexander the Great among Cignaroli’s known works.
After the Battle of Issus, Alexander captured the Persian camp. King Darius managed to escape, but his mother, wife and two daughters were taken prisoner. The mercy and generosity Alexander showed towards the members of the Persian royal household are legendary. When Darius’s wife Stateira died in childbirth in the military camp, this greatly affected Alexander, since, as Plutarch says, the young victor was no longer able to show her his kindness. He gave orders that the queen should be buried with all honours. In Cignaroli’s depiction, Alexander is shown in the moment of entering the tent, a military escort behind him. The manneristically slender figure of the gentle-faced youth in military attire, a plumed helmet on his head, illustrates Alexander’s legendary mercy, which he also expresses by raising his right hand in greeting as he enters the tent. The body of the dead queen lies on the ground before him, dressed in a white gown. The blue drapery covering her belly hints at the tragic outcome of her pregnancy. The dead woman’s daughters grieve over her body. The weeping girl leaning over the table is probably a servant. The precious vessels and crown placed on the table may also be associated with the dead queen.
The subject of this painting is something of an exception in baroque iconography, since the more familiar scene is one in which Alexander shows his mercy to the captured members of Darius’s family as they pay homage to him and beg for mercy.
The depiction of the abundant draperies and the subtle use of colour, along with the evident familiarity with classical culture, reveal this to be the work of a painter with an academic background. It is therefore no coincidence that the painting appeared on the market as the work of a neoclassical painter. The painting is the epitome of courtly baroque classicism, or in other words of the stylistic language of the Veronese painter Giambettino Cignaroli, whose formation owed much to the academies of Rome and Bologna, in particular to the artistic language of the Bolognese painter Guido Reni (1575–1642). Analysis of Cignaroli’s painting should not, however, overlook the influence of two stylistically influential artists working in Verona: the Veronese native Antonio Balestra (1666–1740) and the French-born Ludovico Dorigny (1654–1742). With an oeuvre that was for the most part sacred in character, Cignaroli developed his distinctive, well-rounded style as a member of the circle of Veronese illuministi, of which the leading figure was Scipione Maffei. Given the stylistic homogeneity of Cignaroli’s oeuvre and the lack of dating and archival sources, producing a chronology of his works is a difficult task. At best, we can place this particular painting among the artist’s works (although it could also be a product of his bottega) from the late 1750s or 1760s.
Quoted from: New Acquisitions 2001‒2010, 12 October 2011‒12 February 2012 [exhibition catalogue], Ljubljana, 2011, pp. 42‒43.