Many years ago I ordered the Cortum Alexander at Issus series of figures through my friend Carl Gruen.   I had always thought it would be fun and challenging to create a natural light box diorama of the Issus mosaic from Pompeii using these figures, and while visiting Naples after the Rome World Expo I got to see the mosaic in person and was totally blown away by how impressive  it was compared to the mediocre photographs of it.  The colors and quality of the figures is so much more impressive in person (not sure why no one has really taken a great photo of this mosaic).   In any event after that show I started scoping out such a diorama by picking out certain figures from the series and placing them inside a cardboard box that was similar to the size I wanted to use for the diorama box.

Over time I played around with which figures would be best in such a scene.  Although the series has some figures that are very close to the mosaic, it does not have all of them matched exactly and also of course, much of the mosaic is missing so that leaves it open to interpretation.   Eventually I settled on the figures and placement and then worked on the levels of each group along with some ideas for the tree that is so prominent in the mosaic, as well as the background which is not evident in the mosaic.   For the tree I eventually used a cut out piece of plastic card which was painted to look 3D.  For the backdrop I used a piece of Bristol board artists paper with a cardboard support and then painted the sky and ground in oils.  I curved the backdrop at both corners and raised the horizon to create the illusion of distance (a standard boxed diorama technique).   I decided to create a dramatic sky with the light shining through some clouds onto the main figures.   In order to flow this effect throughout the diorama, I painted a number of figures in cloud shadows and in some cases painted part of the figure in shadow and part light.   To paint figures in a cloud covered environment I used a lot of greyed out colors along with bluish highlights and avoided using any bright colors.  This was a bit daunting to do on the same figure but it was fun to try.    Also in order to make the background look like it had an army behind the main figures, I created a set piece out of plastic card where I painted figures in the distance and set that at the back of the box.  I also placed some foam behind the card with just the peaks showing as heads of figures and then added various spears which are very prominent in the mosaic.  You really can’t see this part unless you look at the diorama from above.

All the figures were painted in acrylics, and started as grey and white undercoats, aka grisaille.  Finally the diorama was set in a wooden box with a frame and matt, and also a clear plastic top to let light in.  I also fixed in some mini LED lights behind the matt to wash out any shadows that the frame sheds onto the front figures.






9 thoughts on “Cortum Alexander at Issus by Greg DiFranco

  1. It is really a Master Piece, with a purpose, a construction, an complete story, a nice background, excellent lightening !!!
    Congratulations! One more the master work that will remain in flat painting ….

  2. I saw it in Chicago and it is a masterpiece that left me speechless. Thanks to this piece it was worth the trip from Mexico

Leave a Reply