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Work Alexander with the Spear

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Alexander with the Spear

© 1989 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This statuette echoes a portrait of Alexander the Great made around 330 BC by Lysippus, court sculptor to the king of Macedon. Alexander is depicted as a conqueror, a spear clasped firmly in his left hand, while the right one holds a sword. He is wearing a headdress, added to conform with this type of statuary: together with his heroic nudity, it probably evokes the sacred cult devoted to him after his death (323 BC), particularly in Egypt under the reign of the Ptolemies.

A portrait of Alexander the Great

This bronze statuette reproduces one of the numerous portraits of Alexander the Great made by Lysippus of Sicyon, court sculptor to the king of Macedon. Literary tradition relates that the sovereign allowed only three artists to portray him: the painter Apelles, the engraver Pyrgoteles, and Lysippus. Despite the corrosion of the metal, Alexander can be recognized from his facial features and from the most unusual arrangement of his 'leonine' hair, the locks falling wreath-like over the brow. A small mortise joint on the top of the head enables us to reconstruct, on the evidence of a painting done in Antinoopolis in the second century AD, allows us to reconstruct an Egyptian-type crown. Together with the sovereign's heroic nudity, this headdress probably evoked the sacred cult that was dedicated to him after his death (in 323 BC), mainly in Egypt under the reign of Ptolemy I Soter, the first of the Ptolemaic kings.

A replica of Alexander with the Spear

The statuette may be a small replica of the portrait of Alexander with the Spear made by Lysippus around 330 BC and mentioned by Plutarch in the Moralia (360 d). The king is portrayed as a conqueror, his left hand gripping a spear (now lost), his right the knob of a sword (also missing). The figurine is almost contemporary with its model, having been produced during the final years of the fourth century BC. The literature is extremely vague as to the portrait's place of origin. Some writers seem to think it was made at Ephesus, since it was there, in the temple of Artemis, that the king consecrated his spear after the victorious battle of the Granicus; it was there too, according to Pliny the Elder (Natural History, XXXV, 92), that Apelles' picture of Alexander holding a thunderbolt was to be found. For others, however, Lysippus's work was made in Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander in 332 BC. The provenance of this small bronze would seem to bear out that theory, as would the presence of the Egyptian headdress.

The art of Lysippus

The statue's extremely elongated silhouette and the deliberately reduced proportions of the head are part of the taste for slender figures which Lysippus introduced in the second half of the fourth century BC. The length of the head represents an eighth part of that of the body; the sculptor, then, has broken with the classical tradition set out in the canon of Polyclitus, which favored a shorter body, in which the length of the head represented only a seventh part of that of the body. The figurine also expresses the artist's concern to inscribe the human body in a three-dimensional space. The composition is open, thanks to the movement of the head toward the right and the outstretched left arm to the side. In addition, Lysippus adopts a balance which goes beyond the "contrapposto" developed by Polyclitus around the middle of the fifth century BC: the tension in the legs, the slight turning of the right knee, and the suggestion of a highly realistic stride capture the figure as in a snapshot.

Bibliography

- ROLLEY C., La sculpture grecque, II. La période classique, Paris, 1999, p. 352-354, fig. 364.

- THOMAS R., Griechische Bronzestatuetten, 1992, p. 112-114, 181, fig. 108.

Technical description

  • Alexander with the Spear

    Late fourth century BC

    Lower Egypt

    Lower Egypt

  • Solid-cast bronze, with incisions

    H. 16.5 cm

  • Clot-Bey collection; purchased by the Louvre in 1852

    Br 370

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Venus de Milo gallery
    Room 13

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