Many of our Vistas community are getting impatient about the updated and extended edition of Taste and the Antique. So are we! But this is too important for us to cut any corners. I promise I’ll send frequent updates, like this one.
The publication of this book in 1982 opened an entirely new field of study, creating an incredible amount of material. Just so you’ll understand what’s going on, here’s just one example. This is one of our shorter entries (yes, shorter!). I won’t include the bibliography or footnotes, because it would be too long for a blog. The black print is the original. The bold is the new material.
2. The Dying Alexander
FLORENCE, UFFIZI (inv. 338)
Height: 0.72 m (0.42 m excluding modern bust)
Also known as: Achilles (Baretti, p. 27)
Literature: Monaco 2007; CensusID 156427
The earliest evidence of the presence of the Dying Alexander in the Medici collection in Florence has recently been recognized in a note of July 1586 stating that the head had been adapted to a cuirassed bust by Giovanni Battista Caccini.[i] This appears to clash with the previous assumption that the head had to be identified with one restored by Giambologna in 1595.[ii] The Dying Alexander has been in the Uffizi since at least the end of the seventeenth century, but probably longer,[iii] since the sculpture appears to be mentioned not only in the Uffizi inventory of 1676 but also in a less detailed list compiled in 1638.[iv] Drawings of what is almost certainly the same head appear in the sketchbook of Girolamo da Carpi made in Rome between 1549 and 1553,[v] and it is probable that the Uffizi head was acquired by the Medici in Rome and is the head of Alexander which Aldrovandi, in a publication of 1556 (based on notes made in Rome six years earlier) described as in the collection of Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi in the palace in Campo Marzio.[vi] This collection was dispersed soon after his death in 1564.[vii] However, it has been noted that the head is not listed in two inventories of the Carpi collection drawn up soon after the cardinal’s death and it has been proposed to identify the sculpture with “an ancient head of Alexander the Great” which Cardinal Rodolfo donated to Pius IV in October 1560 along with other three portraits, sculptures that the Pope had in mind to send to Philip IV in Spain.[viii] It is not possible to ascertain when precisely the head passed from the possessions of the Pope to the Medici.
The influence of this sculpture has been detected, convincingly, in early sixteenth-century art and was later the model for numerous ecstatic or inspired figures[ix] – Winckelmann, in fact, noted its influence on Domenichino’s celebrated fresco of St. John the Evangelist (in one of the pendentives of the dome of S. Andrea della Valle).[x] The earliest replica is probably one in porphyry made in the late sixteenth century by Francesco Ferruci del Tadda (d. 1585) and kept in the villa Poggio Imperiale (probably identical with the one today displayed in the Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence);[xi] a reduced copy in porphyry, reversed, attributable to Matteo Ferruci del Tadda, Francesco’s nephew, is adapted to an alabaster cuirassed bust and appears to testify Caccini’s restoration.[xii] The head with its pleading look also Queen Christina of Sweden who commissioned a bronze copy from Soldani requested permission to have the marble moulded in 1681.[xiii] A plaster cast was amongst those in the Antikensaal at Mannheim opened by the Elector Karl Theodor in 1767,[xiv] and by 1781 there was one in the Royal Academy in London (where it was considered by some to be head of Achilles).[xv] There were also numerous marble copies, many of which were made in the eighteenth century[xvi] when the bust was admired in rapturous terms by almost all the visitors of the Uffizi.[xvii]
The identification of this upturned head as a portrait of Alexander the Great probably stemmed from Plutarch’s statement that Lysippus, who alone among contemporary sculptors was permitted to take the likeness of the Conqueror, portrayed him with leonine hair and melting eyes, looking up to the heavens.[xviii] Lomazzo, writing in 1590, claimed that fragments of the statue by Lysippus were known and that the head was recognised by the ‘intendenti’ to be the most rare and artful in existence, with a hollowing of the eyes and ‘quadratura’ of the nose which Polidoro, Michelangelo and Raphael had imitated.[xix] But (assuming that this was the head that had been in Pio da Carpi’s collection) Aldrovandi had accounted for the intense expression by stating that it showed Alexander on his deathbed permitting his soldiers to kiss his hand.[xx] Aldrovandi must have had in mind how Alexander, too weak to speak, raised his head with difficulty and greeted with a look each of his officers as they filed through his tent.[xxi] Later accounts of the head after its installation in the Uffizi suggest that the Emperor had been shown wounded (as he was believed by some of the blood he lost in battle with the Oxydracae;[xxii] or feverish after bathing in the icy waters of the Cydnus;[xxiii] or lamenting that there were no more worlds to conquer;[xxiv] or in agonies of remorse for killing Clitus, a warrior who had saved his life, during a quarrel at a banquet (‘a personal memorial … of the terrible effects of intemperance and midnight hours’).[xxv] The Dying Alexander remained, however, the most popular title. The various interpretations not only reflected the desire to find in ancient sculpture illustrations of ancient history, but also the recognition of that the movement and the expression of this head were more dramatic than one would expect in a portrait – even in a portrait by Lysippus. The head is now in fact believed to be a fragment of some heroic narrative group.
Although the head was clearly admired for its expression, and not simply as the likeness of Alexander, once that likeness was disputed, the celebrity of the sculpture did slowly decline. Bianchi was not certain that it was a portrait of Alexander[xxvi] and the discovery of the inscribed herm portrait at Tivoli in 1779 (‘the Azara Herm’ presented to Bonaparte and today in the Louvre)[xxvii] convinced most scholars that it was not.[xxviii] All the same, it was till popularly known as the ‘Dying Alexander’ a century later, and some scholars still believed it might represent Alexander.[xxix] But Amelung, aware of the Altar of Zeus excavated at Pergamon and displayed in Berlin, proposed that it was a copy of a work of the Pergamene school and labelled it as a ‘dying giant’[xxx] – a view which is adhered to in Mansuelli’s catalogue.[xxxi] Such interpretation, however, was first questioned by Becatti who proposed to identify the sculpture with Helios;[xxxii] accepting this hypothesis, Saladino put forward to date the head to the late Hellenistic age.[xxxiii] More recently Monaco has suggested to identifying the head with a Triton, perhaps deriving from a famous marine thiasos created by Scopas in the mid fourth century B.C.[xxxiv]
Restorations:[xxxv] early interventions, datable to the mid sixteenth century, concern some locks of hair; the head was adapted to an alabaster bust by Caccini in the late sixteenth century; the groove encircling the head may be the result of a modern intervention since it is not registered in the quite faithful, mid seventeenth-century marble copy of the Alexander now in Palazzo Lancellotti, Rome.[xxxvi] In 1784 Giuseppe Belli substituted the cuirassed bust with the actual naked one and enhanced the inclination of the head.
[i] Poggio Imperiale, 1979, p. 75; Monaco, 2007, p. 179.
[ii] Monaco, 2007, pp. 179, 191-2; for the reference to Giambologna’s restoration see Lanciani, 1989-2002, III, p. 122.
[iii] Mansuelli, I, pp. 94-5.
[iv] Monaco, 2007, p. 178.
[v] Canedy, 1976, pp. 102, 116, 118 (T109, T161, T173); Monaco, 2007, pp. 182 figs.7-9, 183.
[vi] Aldrovandi, 1556, p. 205; for the collection see Gasparri, 2004, pp. 49-60.
[vii] Lanciani, 1902-12, III, p. 185.
[viii] Monaco, 2007, p. 183.
[ix] Schwarzenberg, pp. 399-400. For instance, Rubens used the head as a model for heads of martyrs, such as At Lawrence (Munich, Alte Pinakothek, c. 1613-5), St John Evangelist (Malines), St George (Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts) and St Sebastian (Berlin, Staatliche Museen); the Alexander is also recognizable in his Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Washington, National Gallery) and the head of the Consul in the Death of Decius Mus (Vaduz, Liechtenstein Collection), see Van der Meuleun, 1994-5, p. 145.
[x] Winckelmann, 1968, p. 151 (Erinnerung); for the fresco see Bernardini, 2003, fig. 2.
[xi] Bencivenni Pelli, I, p. 139, note; Schwarzenberg, pp. 400-1; Martelli, pp. 20-1; Monaco, 2007, pp. 179, 180 fig. 5.
[xii]Florence, Museo del Bargello, inv. 187, see Monaco, 2007, pp. 179-80, 181 fig. 6. Perhaps referable to the same workshop is a third porphiry copy which in the late ninenteenth century was in Hamilton Palace, Lanarkshire, see Michaelis, 1882, p. 300 no. 3; Monaco, 2007, p. 180.
[xiii] Lankheit, pp. 259-60 (doc. 169); Schwarzenberg, p. 401.
[xiv] Schiller, XX, p. 105; for the antiquarian collection assembled by Karl Theodor see Stupperich, 2003.
[xv] Baretti, p. 27.
[xvi] Lani, 1910-11, I, p. 64; Schwarzenberg, pp. 400-1. A marble copy now in Palazzo Lancellotti, Rome, is datable to the mid seventeenth century, see Monaco, 2007, pp. 188-9, 191 figs. 16, 17; another reduced copy, datable to the eighteenth century, is today in the villa Poggio Imperiale, see Poggio Imperiale, 1979, pp. 74-5 no. 24, pl. XXXV,3.
[xvii] E.g. Addison, pp. 412-13; Cochin, II, p. 45; Corke and Orrey, pp. 159-64; Dupaty, I, p. 134; Beckford, I, p. 166; Caylus, 1914, p. 314; Burney, p. 109.
[xviii] Plutarch, On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander, II,2; The Life of Alexander, IV, 1.
[xix] Lomazzo, p. 15.
[xx] Aldrovandi, 1556, p. 205.
[xxi] Arrian, Anabasis Alexandri, VII, 26.
[xxii] Bianchi, pp. 134-6; Bencivenni Pelli, I, p. 141; Smollett, p. 235 (letter XXVIII); Arrian explains that the battle over the city of the Mallians was often said to be a battle with the Oxydracae – Anabasis Alexandri, VI, 9; see also Plutarch, The Life of Alexander, LXIII.
[xxiii] Bianchi, Bencivenni Pelli, Smollet (as in Note 17) thinking of Plutarch, The Life of Alexander, XIX.
[xxiv] Addison, pp. 412-13 (taking the idea from the elder Binachi according to Bianchi, p. 136); [Jameson], pp. 96-7; Burney, p. 109. This idea probably came from the epigram quoted by Plutarch (On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, II, 2).
[xxv] Corke and Orrey, pp. 159-64; Moore, II, pp. 261-2 (thinking of Plutarch, The Life of Alexander, L-LII).
[xxvi] Bianchi, pp. 137-8.
[xxvii] Inv. MA 436, see Erme tiburtine, 1992, pp. 187-90 no. 1 (B. Cacciotti).
[xxviii] Carlo Fea in his edition of Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst of 1820, vol. II, p. 253, note A; Visconti (Iconografia Greca), II, plate II; for the ancient iconography of Alexander the Great see Moreno, 2010; Trofimova, 2013, pp. 15-32. For a census of preserved Alexander portraits see Stewart, 1993, pp. 421-37.
[xxix] Perry, W.C., p. 484.
[xxx] Amelung, 1897, p. 96.
[xxxi] Mansuelli, I, pp. 94-6; Bieber, pp. 119-20. For an overview of the interpretations of the head see Monaco, 2007, pp. 199-203.
[xxxii] Becatti, 1954, p. 91, pl. XXXIII.2.
[xxxiii] Saladino, 1983, p. 74.
[xxxiv] Monaco, 2007, pp. 203-5; the sculptural group is mentioned in Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, XXXVI, 26. The identification with the Giant Alcyoneus, however, is still defended in Trofimova, 2013, p. 129.
[xxxv] Monaco, 2007, pp. 188-93.
[xxxvi] See Note 16.