Head of Alexander

Head of Alexander the Great
Beth Shean, Israel
Hellenistic period, 2nd century BCE
H: 40
Israel Antiquities Authority
Accession number: IAA 31-7

More than any other figure in history, Alexander the Great, ruler of Macedon (356-323 BCE), personifies the emergence of Western culture. He conquered most of the civilized world of his time and built an empire that reached as far as India; immediately after his death it was torn by division and later dominated by the Romans, who adopted his vision of all people unified in one shared culture. Alexander's personality, achievements, and romantic beauty captivated historians, poets, and artists throughout the ages, inspiring his portrayal in a myriad of artistic media throughout the Hellenistic-Roman world. The Beth Shean portrait, larger than life-size and once part of a complete statute, belongs to the many idealized portraits of Alexander. The soft turn of the neck, the dreamy expression, and thick, leonine hair are all typical traits of this figure already analyzed in ancient writings. Despite the damage done to the facial features, their beauty prevails: in the full face, carved in wide planes; in the eyes, fixed in a meditative and soulful gaze; and in the wide brow and parted lips. The head tilts slightly to the right while the massive neck turns to the left. A wreath, perhaps made of a different material, would have been attached to the hole in the front of the head. The abundant hair and the two characteristic curls above the forehead show traces of red paint. This is the base coat over which was most likely painted a golden tint, the color of Alexander's hair according to ancient literature.

The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005