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Dying Alexander

Roman copy of a Hellenistic portrait, 2nd century BC.

“A dark mist crossed the sky, and a bolt of lightning was seen to fall from heaven into the sea, and with it a great eagle. And the bronze statue of Arimazd in Babylon quivered; and the lightning ascended into heaven, and the eagle went with it, taking with it a radiant star. And when the star disappeared in the sky, Alexander too had shut his eyes.”

‘The Legend had begun.’

The identification of this head as a portrait of Alexander the Great is derived from Plutarch, who wrote that only Lysippos was permitted to make a likeness of him, and portrayed him“with leonine hair and melting upturned eyes.”

The interpretation that Alexander is shown in his death throes demonstrates the Renaissance desire to find in ancient sculpture illustrations of ancient history; the expression and pose are more dramatic than we would expect to find in a portrait.

(Uffizi, Florence.)