The Family of Darius before Alexander

The story illustrates the mistake made by the family of Darius, the defeated Persian Emperor, in identifying Alexander after the Battle of Issus. Alexander and his friend Hephaestion visited Darius's tent; the mother of Darius, misled by Hephaestion's splendour and bearing, offered him the reverence due to the victorious monarch; Alexander forgave her.

Veronese’s interpretation is subtle and genteel. He arrays the figures elegantly across the surface, magnificently dressed in modern fashion, with the exception of Alexander who is clad in red and wears armour of classical derivation. Echoing contemporary buildings in Verona, the architectural backdrop is fashioned like a theatre set, while the low horizon recalls the experience of seeing a stage play from the front row.

Veronese depicts the moment when Alexander steps forward, replicating Darius’s family’s confusion in the viewer. Alexander magnanimously gestures toward Hephasteion who points to himself, clearly taken aback by their mistake. The viewer would be forgiven for thinking he is the Emperor.

Gallery insight: Keith Cavers
Keith Cavers, National Gallery Information, explores the homoeroticism of Veronese's painting - 3 mins 3 secs

From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Twenty One, July 2008

Key facts

Artist dates
1528 - 1588
Full title
The Family of Darius before Alexander
Date made
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
236.2 x 474.9 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought, 1857
Inventory number
Location in Gallery