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Head of Alexander the Great

about 320 B.C.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

Identified by his mass of leonine hair, his young idealized face, and his deep-set, upturned eyes, Alexander the Great was the first Greek ruler to understand and exploit the propagandistic powers of portraiture. Ancient literary sources say that he let only one sculptor carve his portrait: Lysippos, who created the standard Alexander portrait type. In general such portraits incorporated characteristics that had been used earlier for the representation of gods and heroes. This practice was part of Alexander's adoption of the Near Eastern idea of honoring rulers as if they were gods. This life-size head, said to have been found in Megara, was part of a multi-figured group, which probably served as a funerary monument for some courtier who wanted to associate himself with the ruler. The Getty Museum has over thirty fragments of this group, which might have depicted a sacrificial scene. The participants include Alexander, his companion Hephaistion, a goddess, Herakles, a flute player, and several other figures, as well as animals and birds. The head was re-carved in antiquity. The left ear was added, the right sideburn shortened, and the lower eyelids recut.

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