While an edict whereby no-one but the bronze sculptor Lysippos, the painter Apelles and the gem-cutter Pyrgoteles could make Alexander the Great's portrait is certainly fictitious, these three artists virtually created the iconography of royal portraiture that became central to the Western artistic tradition. Lysippos established the heroic-ruler portrait as a distinct genre and Apelles painted Alexander with the attributes of the gods. While all three artists were technical virtuosos, it was Lysippos that created one of the most easily identifiable personages in portraiture by cleverly blending the subtle idealisation of the king's features with apparently realistic detail.
Although none of the images by these artists is known to have survived, they influenced a vast number of carved busts, as well as portraits on gemstones and coins. These all shared immediately recognisable characteristics such as the heroic, youthful and clean-shaven face, the dishevelled hair, the focused or pensive look and, after 332BC, the horns of Zeus Ammon - a propagandist tool Alexander employed after being proclaimed the son of Ammon by the Egyptians whom he liberated in the same year.
A great number of potential sources could have influenced the carving of this Alexander. Consider, for example, the most famous classical images of Alexander in the Uffizi, Florence, and the Dioscuri, also known as Alexander and Buchephalus, in the Piazza del Quirinale, Rome (Haskell and Penny, op. cit., nos. 2 and 3 respectively) where one can see the same youthful, idealised and heroic type that is represented with a strong, rounded face, dishevelled hair and emotive look that is also present on the relief of the Alexander offered here.
However, while the influence of the ancient sculpted portraits cannot be overlooked, the inspiration for the relief was probably a silver tetradrachm by Lysimachus, of circa 297-281 BC - also thought to be a copy of a portrait by Lysippus - (see comparative image). In this portrait, Alexander is depicted with broad, short locks of curly hair, a tense and thick-set brow, large engraved eyes, a strong nose, fleshy lips, a wide jaw and a thick neck. He, furthermore, bears the horns of Zeus Ammon and a diadem - although in the relief it is substituted with a branch of laurel - that is tied with a ribbon that flutters as if caught by the wind.
In terms of style, the exaggerated features mentioned above at first glance appear to come from the hand of that controversial figure of Florentine cinquecento sculpture, Baccio Bandinelli. While aspects of this relief do indeed owe a stylistic debt to him, enough differences also exist to suggest another artist from his circle must be the author. Thus it is to Bandinelli's pupil, Battista Lorenzi, that one must turn as a likely candidate for authorship. A number of works from Lorenzi's hand share some of the idiosyncrasies found on the Alexander relief. In general, many of his works share the intense expression that can, for example, be seen in his portrait bust of Michelangelo completed in 1574 and in Santa Croce, Florence, and the face of Alpheus from a group of Alpheus and Arethusa in the 1568 group now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Utz, op. cit., figs. 2 and 24 respectively). If one looks even deeper into Lorenzi's oeuvre further echoes can be found in his circa 1580 figure of St Ephysius in the Duomo, Pisa (ibid, figs 14-15), and his now missing bust of an Ancient Hero formerly in a Florentine private collection (illustrated in Sotheby's, London, The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection, 8 July 2009, p. 31). In all the above-mentioned, as well as on the Alexander relief offered here, a consistent attention is paid to the hair: with its short, thick, snake-like locks that are punctuated with sequences of shallow drill holes thereby creating deep, but soft, shadows, and, to the ends of the locks of hair (particularly about the forehead) that look like eccentric tips of a flickering flame; to the face: a consistent broadness and heavy brow, with the fleshy lips, thick neck and aquiline nose, and to the eyes: alert, wide open, with heavy upper and lower lids and, common to most of the above-mentioned, deeply drilled irises and pupils.
All these characteristics demonstrate a common theme to many of Lorenzi's works: heroism - either by virtue of their actions (Michelangelo, Perseus or the Ancient Hero and, indeed, the Alexander) or by virtue of how he represented them (Alpheus and St Ephysius). All these figures are imbued with a sense of tension, strength, fortitude and focus, which are all attributes clearly visible on the relief offered here thus making Lorenzi the most likely candidate for its execution.