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Work Bust of Alexander the Great, known as the "Inopos"

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

Bust of Alexander the Great, known as the "Inopos"

© 1999 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Lepetoukha Charlotte

This fragment, discovered on the island of Delos, was thought at one time to represent the Cycladic river-god Inopos, but is now accepted as the portrait of a Hellenistic king, perhaps Mithradates VI or Alexander the Great. The idealized face (similar to that of the Venus de Milo) and the device of partially swathing the figure in drapery date the piece to the end of the second century BC. It is a fine example of the classicizing production of Cycladic workshops of the time.

A youthful representation

Only a fragment of the upper portion of the statue has come down to us. It depicts a young man whose long mane of hair is intersected by a furrow that probably held a metal band (now lost). In a heavy oval face, the figure's small eyes are deep-set beneath a brow that casts a shadow over the gaze. Several parts have been reworked to accommodate elements added later. The back of the statue has been left rough.

A controversial identity

This fragment was discovered on Delos, an island in the Cyclades with an important temple dedicated to Apollo. Initially identified as part of a reclining statue, the figure was thought to represent the god of the Cycladic river Inopos (river-gods are traditionally depicted in a reclining pose.) This hypothesis was later abandoned when it was observed that the statue's oblique cut indicated a standing, clothed figure (a fragment of cloak can still be seen, at the back.)
The controversy surrounding the figure's identity remains, however. The head may have been encircled by a band or wreath, symbolizing royalty. The heavy oval of the face, the deep-set eyes and the particular arrangement of the hair are all traits pointing to an idealized portrait of Alexander the Great.
However, another hypothesis suggests a portrait of Mithradates VI (120-63 BC), king of Pontus in northern Anatolia, who so admired Alexander that he sought to imitate his physical appearance. As such, he was one of very few Hellenistic kings to wear his hair long. We also know that Mithradates was an important figure on Delos, where a building was dedicated to him, and where he was initiated into the cult of Dionysos. The so-called "Inopos" torso differs considerably from another portrait of Mithradates in the Louvre, but the king's portrait on coinage of the time attests to the existence of more idealized representations. According to this (as yet unproved) hypothesis, the "Inopos" would therefore date from the late second century BC.

The "Inopos" and the Venus de Milo

Leaving aside the identity of the figure, the "Inopos" is datable through a comparison with the Venus de Milo (discovered on the Cycladic island of Melos). In common with other figures produced in Cycladic workshops, both statues feature naked torsos above a draped lower body. Despite their obvious differences of gender and size, both also feature trepanned hair, similar brow-lines, deep-set eyes and slightly heavy oval faces. Like the Venus de Milo, the "Inopos" is an expression of the classicizing trend characteristic of the Hellenistic period, begining in the second half of the second century BC.

Bibliography

Michon, "Etude sur les marbres de Délos", in Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique, 35, Paris, 1911, p. 288-301
J. Charbonneaux, "La Vénus de Milo et Mithridate le Grand", in Revue des Arts, I, Paris, 1951, p. 12-16
J. Marcadé, "Musée de Délos - étude sur la sculpture hellénistique en ronde bosse découverte dans l'île", BEFAR, 215, Paris, 1969, p. 265-267
A. Pasquier, La Vénus de Milo et les Aphrodites du Louvre, Paris, 1985, p. 85-88
R. R. Smith, Hellenistic Royal Portraits, 1988, p. 172, n 89
Kreikenbom, "Griechische und römische Kolossalporträts", JDAI, suppl. 27, 1992, p. 118-119, n 17
Sculptures déliennes, 1996, p. 86, n 33
M. Hamiaux, Les Sculptures grecques, t. II, Paris, 1998, n 71, pp. 67-68

Technical description

  • Bust of Alexander the Great, known as the "Inopos"

    Circa 100 BC

    Delos, Cycladic islands (Greece)

    Delos, Cycladic islands (Greece)

  • Parian marble, sculpted in the round

    H. 99 cm

  • Gift of A. Gibelin, 1801.

    Inventaire MR 235 (n° usuel Ma 855)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Parthenon room
    Room 7

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Additional information about the work

The left part of the hair has been completed in stucco.