A Greek marble head of Alexander the Great as Zeus-Ammon

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Lot 102
A Greek marble head of Alexander the Great as Zeus-Ammon

£ 20,000 - 30,000
US$ 27,000 - 40,000

Antiquities

28 Nov 2019, 10:30 GMT

London, New Bond Street

A Greek marble head of Alexander the Great as Zeus-Ammon
Probably Egypt, Hellenistic Period, circa 3rd-1st Century B.C.
The idealised, youthful face with almond-shaped eyes, deeply-recessed for inlay (now missing), and small, full mouth, his wavy leonine hair set in characteristic anastole, with large curling ram's horns emerging from the temples, remains of a headdress at the crown of the head, 11.8cm high

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Mr A. collection, Paris, acquired in the 1970s.

    Published:
    F. Antonovich, Les Métamorphoses Divines d'Alexandre, Paris, 1996, p. 97.

    The anastole hairstyle and youthful demeanour, as well as the lack of beard on the present lot, aids the identification of this sculpture as Alexander the Great in the guise of Zeus-Ammon, as opposed to a representation of the god himself. Alexander visited the oracle of Zeus-Ammon early in 331 B.C. during his occupation of Egypt. To do so, he journeyed to the oasis of Siwah in the Libyan desert, a time-consuming expedition undertaken whilst his adversary, the Persian king Darius, readied his forces for their final showdown. At this sanctuary Alexander was acknowledged as the son of Zeus-Ammon, a proclamation that had a lasting and profound effect on Alexander's sense of self as well as his iconographic programme. Thereafter, Alexander was often depicted wearing the ram's horns of the god, on coins (including those issued by his successors), gems (see Oxford Database no. 280 (1892.1499), and in sculpture. This assimilation was political, conferring divine approval on his seemingly unstoppable conquests, as well as personal. Alexander had already by this time flirted with the idea of a divine paternity, probably with the encouragement of his mother Olympias, and had been bolstered in such by his ability to undo an impossible knot in the temple of Zeus Basileus at Gordium in 333 B.C. Yet it was after his transformative experience at Siwah that he fully embraced this claim. Furthermore, it is thought that his divine 'father' offered Alexander two promises during his visit: that he would succeed in conquering Asia, and that he would become a god in his lifetime. Such assurances undoubtedly compelled Alexander in the remaining years of his short life. For further analysis on the relationship between Alexander and Zeus-Ammon, see E.A. Fredericksmeyer, 'Alexander, Zeus Ammon, and the Conquest of Asia' in Transactions of the American Philological Association, vol. 121, 1991, p. 199-214.

    For two other similar portraits of Alexander the Great with deeply-recessed eyes which were once inlaid, see R.S. Bianchi, 'The Nahman Alexander' in JARCE, 43, 2007, p. 29-42. The portrait of Alexander from the collection of the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria (acc. no. 3242) is especially comparable in the carving of the face, with very similar treatment of the eyes, bridge of the nose and mouth. Bianchi suggests that though the use of inlaid eyes confirms an Egyptian provenance, these sculptures were the work of Hellenistic ateliers. He also suggests that they were created for a cultic, temple setting.
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A Greek marble head of Alexander the Great as Zeus-Ammon
A Greek marble head of Alexander the Great as Zeus-Ammon
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