"The portrait is sculpted from a very fine grained imported marble, which had to have been imported into the country because Egypt was marble-poor. The style, however, is decidedly Hellenistic, suggesting that the portrait was sculpted by the Alexandrian school in Egypt. Hallmarks of this school are the so-called 'rings of Venus' on the neck which here appear as corpulent muscles, responding to the sharp turn of the head to its right. In contrast to the finely polished flesh of the face, the hair was only summarily treated. The degree of difference in the surface treatment was intentional. The hair on this head would have been completed with the addition of plaster, another hallmark of Hellenistic marbles created in the Alexandrian school. The hair is full, framing the face and falling onto the nape of the neck at the rear. The eyes were originally inlaid. The mouth is designed with down-turned corners, imbuing the head with a pathos that is consistent with other representations of Alexander the Great.2
The coiffure of Alexander the Great, as depicted on the overwhelming majority of his portraits, is combed back over the forehead and parted in two waves which then cascade back on to the forehead in line with the outer corner of each eye.3 The anastole, which became a personal marker of identification, is alternately described as 'long hair arranged around the head in a wreath', brushed up from the forehead in a distinctive, off-center parting.4 Whereas it is true that the coiffure represented on this portrait differs significantly from this traditional hair style, it is equally true that very few individuals include images of Alexander the Great created in Egypt in their surveys.5
The coiffure of this portrait of Alexander the Great finds its closest correspondences in a red granite portrait of the king now in Alexandria,6 in which the anastole has been replaced by 'crab claw' locks on the forehead.
THE NAHMAN ALEXANDER AND THE GRANITE ALEXANDER
In addition to the reliance on the 'crab claw' for the rendering of the locks, both portraits depict the king with long hair, framing the face and falling on to the nape of the neck at the back. Additionally, both portraits of Alexander originally had inlaid eyes, and both are possessed of a down-turned mouth, imbuing both images with a sense of pathos and longing. The heads are almost identical in their overall dimensions, the granite portrait measuring 34 cm. in height. Both portraits would have had diadems in their hair as well, indicating Alexander's special status.7
Although Grimm would date the granite portrait to the late Hellenistic Period,8 others would place the head into the middle of the dynasty, because of stylistic similarities shared by depictions of Ptolemies of the period designed in pharaonic idiom in hard stones.9 There can be no doubt, therefore, because of these similarities, that both the Nahman and granite portraits of Alexander the Great are Hellenistic originals, rather than Roman copies.
The Nahman portrait of Alexander the Great belongs to an Alexandrian tradition indebted to Praxiteles and his Attic followers, rather than the more Scopaic-Lysippean baroque tradition. It is for this reason that the coiffure of the Nahman portrait relies upon 'crab claw' locks rather than upon the anastole.
This is a significant point, because the Nahman portrait belongs to a stemma to which the granite portrait of Alexander the Great in Alexandria also belongs. One can suggest that a Hellenistic image of Alexander the Great with 'crab claw' locks sweeping the forehead was created by an Alexandrian atelier. That portrait served as the model for both the Nahman portrait and the granite portrait, because both heads are so close to one another and so distinctly different from other images of Alexander the Great as to suggest a common origin. It may be for this reason that 'crab claw' locks on the forehead rather than an anastole appears to be the coiffure of choice for the majority of portraits of Ptolemaic kings in Hellenistic style.10 The popularity of this particular coiffure for depictions of Ptolemaic kings in Hellenistic style suggests that the coiffure was introduced as an insignia exclusive to images of Alexander the Great associated specifically with Egypt. The Ptolemies associating themselves with Alexander the Great and promoting their legitimacy as rulers of Egypt would naturally adopt his coiffure as their own in their portraiture.
One can further argue that this model was cast in bronze, a suggestion which would explain the use of inlaid eyes in both the marble and granite. The sculptor of the Nahman portrait has sensitively manipulated his medium; his modelling of the flesh of the face as subtly merging planes with the complete avoidance of linear adjuncts is characteristic of Alexandrian sculpture at is finest. The granite portrait in Alexandria likewise appears to be a product of the same Alexandrian school because its details do not betray any of the idiosyncrasies of a pharaonic atelier.
This hitherto unpublished portrait of Alexander the Great and its corresponding image in granite in Alexandria raise significant art historical issues which can only be summarized here. Of these the most significant is the observation that the granite portrait of Alexander in Alexandria stylistically only betrays the hand of a Greek sculptor. There is nothing pharaonic about the treatment of the face and hair. The nexus between this granite image and the marble presented here is so close that both could only have been created by artists trained in an Alexandrian atelier producing Hellenistic Greek sculpture. This observation strongly suggests that, contrary to received wisdom, Hellenistic Greek artists could, and indeed did master the art of sculpting hard Egyptian stones like granite according to their own artistic tenets, and that such sculptors eschewed all stylistic and formal references to pharaonic art despite the use of granite, an Egyptian material par excellence.
Taken together, both portraits suggest the existence of an Alexandrian image of Alexander the Great which served as the fountain and source of inspiration for both these images as well as for images of the Ptolemies."R. S. Bianchi
1 A. J. Spencer, British Museum Expedition to Middle Egypt, Excavations at El-Ashmunein II. The Temple Area, 74, London, 1989.
2 Compare, for example, the expression on the face of the 'Schwarzenberg' Alexander, a Roman copy of a contemporary portrait, now in Vienna: A. Stewart, Faces of Power, Alexander's Image and Hellenistic Politics, Berkeley, 1993, pl. 40.
4 R. R. R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture, London, 1991, p. 21.
5 Neither Stewart nor Smith treat such images.
6 Graeco-Roman Museum 3242: G. Grimm, Alexandria: Die erste Köningsstadt der hellenistischen Welt, Mainz, 1998, pp. 30-31, figs. 26a-b; and K. Gebauer, Alexanderbildnis und Alexandertypus (D 19), Ath. Mitt., 63-64, 1938-39, 91.
7 Smith, 20
8 Grimm, 31
9 Alexandria, Graeco-Roman Museum 3357: S. Walker and P. Higgs (eds), Cleopatra of Egypt from History to Myth, London, 2001, no. 19 (tentatively identified as a portrait of Ptolemy VI Philometor): and Athens, National Archaeological Museum 108: O. Tzachou-Alexandri (ed.), The World of Egypt in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, 1995, p. 165, no. 108 (identified as Ptolemy VI Philometor by means of its hieroglyphic inscription).
10 H. Kyrielels, Bildnisse der Ptolemäer, Berlin, 1975, pl. 2 (Paris, Musée du Louvre Ma 849, Ptolemy I Soter): pl. 13 (Copenhagen, National Museum ABb290, Ptolemy II Philadelphus): pl. 20 (Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek 573, Ptolemy III Euergetes II): passim.