Alexander the Great, son of Philip II of Macedon, is arguably the most important historical figure in the ancient world. Born on July 20th, 356 BC, he was an astute, if somewhat headstrong student, and was schooled by various famous teachers, notably Aristotle. By the time of his death at the age of 32, he had personally supervised one of the largest land-based military expeditions of all time, and had conquered the whole of the then known world from Asia Minor across the whole of Persia, Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Gaza, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Bactria, parts of India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. A legend in his own lifetime, he became known as much for his excesses and cruelty as his extraordinary military prowess but was nonetheless a comparatively fair and temperate man. Perhaps due to his supposed descent from Achilles and Heracles (=Hercules), he became essentially deified in the eyes of the Hellenistic period, who celebrated him in art and song, and also by the Romans, who had a fascination with military campaigns and tactics. As a result, he is a favourite topic for statuary, as in the present case.
This piece is carved in the Hellenistic style, with intense naturalism and careful attention to detail. While the body is absent, it would undoubtedly have been diaphanously clad in the flowing robes, ceremonial weapons and celebratory insignia that tend to characterize representations of this god king. The sculpture itself shows Alexander as a boy on the edge of adulthood; at this point in his life (16-18) he was acting regent of Macedon, his father being away on military campaigns that would lead to his own death in 336 BC. His campaigns against rebellious sectors of Greece were the first evidence of his military genius. The face, while evidently young, is determined, with set lips, a jutting chin and intense, well-modelled eyes. The hair is short yet extravagantly curly. There is a general softness about the features that is a bloom likely lost during his ten year campaign across North Africa and Asia. Dating this piece is problematic, as early collectors often accumulated pieces with little thought for provenance. The styling, as stated above, is certainly Hellenistic, although it is possibly later, such as a Roman copy of a Greek original (which were often made in bronze, and melted down at a later date; marble statues tended to survive much better). Regardless of age, however, this is a striking, well-mounted and beautifully presented piece of classical artwork that would be at home in any collection.