Marble head of Alexander the Great
Period: Late 4th century B.C.
Dimensions: Height: 43.2 cm
Ex-American collection of the 1980-1990’s.
The head is carved from a beautiful block of fine-grained white marble; the surface of the stone, carefully cleaned, retains all its luster and fine modeling. The trunconical form sculpted under the neck clearly indicates that the head belonged to a complete statue. The hair, partly unfinished, was probably covered with a veil or another headgear, now lost.
The statue represents a beardless young man, with highly idealized features. The slight asymmetry in the treatment of the facial muscles and in the hair suggests that the head was meant to be placed in three-quarters to the right, the side where the hair is carefully finished. The execution and nuanced shapes are absolutely remarkable, as evidenced by the delicate and sensuous modeling of the skin on the cheeks or the neck, and by the fine rendering of the eyes area, of the nose and mouth. The long and elegant neck, lightly poked forward, is curved to indicate the bulge of the Adam’s apple.
The hair that covers the head like a skullcap is irregular and formed by curls in relief, in which incised locks trace volutes.
This head’s interpretation raises many problems. The facial features recall two very famous types of late 4th century Greek sculpture: a) a head of Eubuleos, coming from Eleusis: this image is known by an original from the National Museum of Athens, which was nevertheless remodeled in ancient times, and by copies dated to the Roman period (Eubuleos was a young pig-keeper who witnessed Persephone’s abduction by Hades; this explains some phases of the Eleusian ritual during which piglets were sacrificed to him). Despite a physiognomic resemblance, our head displays a thinner, more oval face, and less severe and rounded shapes; Eubuleos hair is also more abundant and hides a large part of his neck; b) the portraits of a very young Alexander the Great: the head, now in Malibu, that B. Ashmole identified as the Macedonian king, is certainly closer to our example that the more elaborate type, known as Alexander from Erbach (of which three Roman copies exist). In this case too, the obvious external resemblance in the features does not mask some identification issues, mostly linked to the type and treatment of the hair.
Failing to give a firm interpretation, these two comparisons at least enable us to provide clearer guidance on the chronological framework of our example, which would have been carved during the first decades of Hellenism.
On Eubuleos’ head, see:
KALTSAS N., Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum Athens, Athens, 2002, pp. 265-266, n. 554-556.
On portraits of Alexander, see:
FITTSCHEN K., Katalog der antiken Skulpturen in Schloss Erbach, Berlin, 1977, pp. 21-25, pl. 8, pl. annexes 2-3.
STEWART A., Greek Sculpture, An Exporation, New Haven – London, 1990, pp. 191-192, fig. 576-577 (Malibu).
The Search for Alexander, An Exhibition, Washington, 1980, n. 6 and 13.