The world was lost in fog.
The sun should have been up by now – it must be up, judging by the dim, milky twilight that had replaced the clinging, misty darkness – but the lakeshore, the hills, the trees and bushes, even the thirty-thousand men all around were invisible, all but Hannibal’s guard and a handful of Gaetulan spearmen closest to him. The fog had swallowed all. The rocky slope in front of him vanished a short distance from his feet. Covering all the blinking metal parts turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. We could all be waving red flags, he thought; nobody would see.
Even the noises seemed dimmed. The soldiers behind Hannibal, the Gaetulan skirmishers with the heavy Libyan infantry further down the slope to block the exit from the trap, had settled into breathless silence barely interrupted by whispers. Every metal part was wrapped in cloth to prevent them from clanking.
Even the few officers’ horses behind him were almost as silent as the men. There was the tiniest clinking of tack when one of them shook himself restively. Three Iberians of Hannibal’s guard, positioned behind the general, had even coaxed their mounts to the ground. One of the animals gave a little restless nicker, before his master’s ear-scratching quieted him again. The horses were used to this; Hannibal had often marvelled at the horsemen’s skill in keeping their mounts hidden and quiet while lying in wait for an ambush.
Not long now.
The trees and bushes, the hills, the entire lakeshore lay waiting. Thirty-thousand were waiting. There were no messengers, no horn signals. Hannibal had a few quick runners with him, as well as a handful of mounted messengers, but all his officers knew what was to be done, and he would use messengers only if something went horribly wrong and the others had to be warned. But if anything did go horribly wrong, chances were he would be the last to know. Maharbal was stationed at the entry of the narrow pass along the lake. If all went according to plan, the Romans would now be filing past him. Two horn-blasts when the last of the Roman column had passed the entry into the valley; one horn-blast if they detected the trap.
Not a sound. The horns were silent.
Someone behind him stifled a groan as he stretched aching muscles. They had taken their positions on the slopes two hours ago, at first light; the waiting was becoming more and more agonizing now that the day had finally come. The inability to do anything was almost unbearable. Hannibal stared into the fog as if he could force it to reveal its secrets to him. His dead right eye started watering; it still felt unfamiliar to have a half-vision only, even if today, all were equally blind.
And after all, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
The twilight grew brighter, but still the fog didn’t lift. When the wind brought snatches of voices, hoofs and the marching feet, a shudder seemed to go through the men behind; there was the briefest outbreak of a hissed “They’re coming!” and hurried prayers in at least three different languages, quickly silenced. Hannibal stared into the mist below. The sounds below were getting louder and nearer, slowly, very slowly. Marching feet, the neighing of horses. Snatches of conversation in Latin, even snatches of laughter, but still there was nothing to be seen.
They have no idea, Hannibal thought, overwhelmed. Yes, he had counted on this, had planned for it, had assured his officers and his men of it, but now, the Gods had truly laid everything into his hands. The fog, the natural ambush site provided by the lakeshore, and incredibly, the utter artlessness of Gaius Flaminius. There was nothing to indicate the Roman consul had sent out any scouts, or his Libyans would have encountered them by now. Flaminius knew Hannibal was just a day’s march ahead of him, but he was leading his army into this misty valley without a shred of caution.
Forty thousand men marching blindly into their doom.
Behind Hannibal, breathless tension. No more hissed comments, not even prayers. His surroundings felt unreal, remote, secondary; his sole focus, every tendril of his being, concentrated on the unseen Roman army making its way along the coastal road, deeper into the mist, towards him, into the waiting trap. Only minutes now, and they would all be inside the jaws of death, still utterly ignorant. Only minutes until there would be no escaping Lake Trasimene. Closer came the hoof-sounds, closer came the voices; now he could hear even the scraping of iron-shod sandals on the sandy road; could make out a half-sentence or two –
Then, two horn-blasts from the far end of the shore. The trap was sprung. The jaws closed.
“Servilius Geminus was dead, hacked to pieces by several Iberian swords at once. Minucius Rufus was dying, run through with a spear. The legates’ bodyguards were just being cut down along with them. Centho was dead, defending the consul, who was in a state of shock and utter disbelief. Lentulus had drifted into view and out again, shouting at him, but the words had made no sense.
Aemilius Paullus had left the dying right flank, only to die in the centre.”
Part of a new personal project of mine I’m working on in between commishs. It’ll be a while, but… stay tuned. ^^
Just a quick sketch done on, yes, a bowling alley. And yes, there is a connection. My son turned nine yesterday, and today, we invited his friends for bowling (or, more precisely, the German variant, Kegeln). The kids were having fun and they were exceptionally well-behaved, so I had some time to get some sketching done – of an equally nine-year-old Hannibal standing next to his father in the temple of Baal Hammon. That scene is going to need a stronger illu at some later date. When I’m not on a bowling alley and the light is better.
A similarly simple sketch of Antiochos III, done last week. With reference – a marble bust in the Louvre.
This piece really gave me a hard time, but it’s probably very fitting that, in mid-October, I struggle with a piece depicting Hannibal struggling with the Alps in mid-October. My losses were in paper and pencils rather than mules and men, but it seems crossing the Alps isn’t meant to be easy.
The lineart stage alone took me a week and four pieces of paper as I redrew this bit and that and put the pieces back together again. The colour was even tougher. I don’t think I’ve ever painted anything as complex as this. I’d say I mostly succeeded. Another parallel there.
Before I started, I made myself a greyscale sketch in Photoshop, so I knew where to get how dark in the final piece.
Then I mixed some Phtalo Blue, Indigo and Shadow Violet in one compartment of my palette, some Ochre in another, and then some reddish brown from leftovers I had in my palette (probably mainly Burnt Sienna, Piemontite Red, and Sepia). I sprayed my entire canvas with water and added a very light blue wash, then going into all the bits that are exposed to the light with extremely thin Ochre.
Then, when this had dried, I painte a rather uniform pale blue sky. The picture is going to be busy enough; when everything else is done, I’ll decide how many clouds this piece can handle.
Next, I started painting the mountains in the back of the image. I used a pale Blue, mainly Phtalo, and painted the “negative space” around the snow. I mixed in some green to suggest a few trees further away.
Then I went about detailing the rock-faces closer to us, with mixes of different blues (more Pthalo here, more Indigo and Shadow Violet there), intermingled in the shadows and rockier parts with different, toned-down browns I mixed above.
I make sure never to get too dark, but more and more detailed towards the front.
More details and deeper shadows to the rocky bits.
I painted a thin brownish/bluish wash across the army and the space below them, to tie them in with the surroundings. The group of three men, immediately behind Hannibal and the soldier he’s pulling to his feet, is overlaid with a muddy wash so they won’t distract from the two later on.
I then decided the empty triangle of sky could well use another mountain, plus a few bluer shadows on the other mountains, which I painted in with Phtalo and Indigo.
Next, I set out to paint the mountainside to the left. It’s completely in shadow, and I mixed some more reddish tones into the blue.
Finished detailing. Not too much – I want the detail to be almost lost in the rock face later on, enough to look finished and non-monotonous, but nothing to distract from the figures.
Next, some skin, bronze and leather.
Outfitting Hannibal’s Libyans with warm winter clothes. Quiet there in the back, I’ll get to you eventually. The elephants go first.
More detailing of the figures in back. Simultaneously, I determined how dark my darkest spots would be in this image – Hannibal’s hair – to set off the rest against it, and to have something to check the column against, to keep myself from getting too dark in the background.
And well, after fiddling with hundreds of little figures for hours that don’t look like anything, I needed something rewarding to paint.
In this painting, my approach is very un-classical. Instead of going strictly from light to dark, I made sure to lay done some guidelines, shapes through the painting, forcing myself to keep an overview rather than getting lost in the details.
Like the fact that Hannibal’s sword is four inches long. >_<
So this is where the mixed media part comes in, and I mixed some dark burgundy with gouache and fixed that sword thing. Next, I added some bright colours (not gouache this time, still sticking mainly to the colours I’ve previously used) for Hannibal’s clothes. They’re too bright as of now, but I plan to make generous use of dark shadows and liquid watercolours to tone them down and add that extra punch that liquid watercolours excel at.
The shields of the men in the back have also been detailed with a mix of ochre/Burnt Sienna/violet mixes already in use. No new colours have been introduced here.
I also painted over the entire army in the back again with a good brushful of dirty water. That got rid of the little white flashes of unpainted whites everywhere, and tied them together neatly. I’ll go in later to pick out some bronze helmet highlights.
Some gouache too, for lighter highlights, which I rarely do, but which are needed here.
The colours look off in the photograph; the original looks much better.
As gouache palettes, I always keep the plastic lids of Chipsletten crisps (Pringles-like,but Chipsletten taste better). They’re the perfect size and quality for palettes on an overcrowded desk like mine.
The epiphany of the week came with the realisation that a watercolour that looks off is ruined, and a gouache painting that looks of may just not be done yet. That’s a concept I never really grasped. The next step will be to understand how to go on. I manage well enough with gouache in metal and clothes, but skin is not very successful yet. A part of me refuses to paint skin with anything opaque, which seems to be my problem.
Last details of the Celt’s helmet…
And the clothes of the men in front.
“δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται, δί… uh… διδόμετα…”
“διδόμεθα, Hannibal. That’s a theta, not a tau.”
Hannibal sighed. “Sosylos… can’t we carry on with the Anabasis?”
“The Anabasis? You think I’ll let you near Xenophon when you can’t conjugate δίδωμι?”
“But is that important? People’ll understand me. You understand me.”
“It’s not about being understood somehow. Even a peddler in the market can be understood somehow. I wouldn’t have to be here if it was just about that. It’s the details. Today, you learn to conjugate δίδωμι. You’ll learn to distinguish between tau and theta. Next year, we’ll read Plato. You’ll learn to distinguish between fine points of right and wrong, and one view and another. You father is chasing you around the fields to exercise your body. This is just as important. I’m chasing you round the Greek verbs to exercise your mind. You’re going to need both.”
“But why Greek? Can’t I exercise my mind with Punic?”
“No. Because, no offence, Punic is a language for peddlers. Your esteemed father saw that and gave me the task of getting some culture into your head. Now, again. δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται…”
We know next to nothing about Hannibal’s youth, save for one thing that I, personally, find very touching: He learned Greek, from a Spartan turot called Sosylos who later followed him on his campaigns as a historian. When I did my Graecum at University and struggled with the Greek conjugations, especially δίδωμι, I often wondered whether there were any words Hannibal hated, too. I always thought it was funny that I understand not one but two languages, Greek and Latin, that Hannibal also spoke.
And of course, if you’re a Latin teacher, you’re so used to fifteen-year-olds with thin arms and legs and huge feet slouched on chairs in deep concentration, questioning every task you make them do.
Sosylos is ever so slightly based on the professor I learnt Greek from. Obviously. :D
My first step, as usual, is a pale wash over the entire canvas – here, a cool blue. I brush it off with a dry, clean brush over the mountaintops, the smoke, Gandalf’s beard and face where the light hits.
Then I start painting the face. When everything around it is still so light, the reddish tones around eyes and nose often look totally overdone, but in the end, when everything else is painted as well, it’s hardly noticeable any more, so I often end up darkening it again after all.
Let’s have some more red. He looks drunk? Not for long. In the end, it’ll be just right.
Shading on the fine tips of hair and beard.
Shading and texturing on the scarf and cloak. I’ve brought out the eyebrows with a bit of gouache.
Texturing wood works best painting around the highlights of the wooden structure, and deepening the shades in and around the knotholes.
I demens, et saevas curre per Alpes…
(Go, madman, and race across the wild Alps…, Iuvenal)
This has been a while in the making. I’m now finally happy with the lineart. I felt I owed Hannibal an epic, A3 sized crossing-of-the-Alps painting. To be watercoloured.
Whenever I think of Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps, I think of the description in the novel by Gisbert Haefs. Pathos? Yes. Muchly. But on the other hand, what achievement in history deserves pathos as much as this one?
“The army turned into a twitching, bleeding body that threatened to fall apart and was held together by one iron band alone. Hannibal. He was everywhere, surveyed everything – from the back of Syros, from horseback, from a rock; where he put one of twenty collapsed men back on his feet, the other nineteen would rise; where he appeared with a handful of nuts, ten half-famished men would march on; where he sat down, a hundred men lying prone would sit up; where he cracked a joke, thirty lifeless men would cast off their despair and go on living; where he slept – but he didn’t sleep. He seemed to need no sleep. Whenever a pass had been taken, the mountain-dwellers fleeing, the army sinking into snow and ice to rest, he called together the commanders, took care of provisions, gave orders to secure the heights, commands for the next day… He was heart and brain and helm and girdle of the twitching and sore body and a god to the warriors; at one point, Hasdrubal the Grey said, “Lucky China. Against him, Alexander’s men wouldn’t have mutinied at the Indus; they’d have kept going.”
Gisbert Haefs, Hannibal. Der Roman Karthagos. (My translation; doesn’t quite capture the poignancy of the original.)