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Late Classical Art: Alexander the Great

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Late Classical Art: Alexander the Great

  1. 1. Alexander the Great
  2. 2. The kingdom of Macedonia was located north of Greece
  3. 3. Although the Greeks regarded their northern Macedonian neighbors as “barbarians” (non-Greeks), King Phillip II was a great admirer of Greek culture
  4. 4. He surrounded himself with Greek philosophers, historians, and artists, and entrusted the education of his son Alexander to none other than the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle
  5. 5. From this education, Alexander developed a deep love of Greek culture, even though he was not himself Greek
  6. 6. At the death of his father, Alexander ascended the throne when he was just 20 years old, and he launched a military career that earned him the title of “Alexander the Great” Alexander, played by Colin Farrell in the Movie Alexander
  7. 7. Alexander’s Empire Macedon In 334 BCE he began to expand his father’s kingdom even further by conquering the Persian Empire, the longtime foe of the Greek city states
  8. 8. When his armies arrived at the great palace of Persepolis they destroyed it, in revenge for the Persian sack of the Athenian acropolis
  9. 9. Coin showing Alexander attacking an Indian war elephant Image source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Victory_coin_of_Ale xander.jpg Reaching as far as India, Alexander’s armies returned to Babylon, where he died of fever
  10. 10. Alexander’s Empire Macedon After just 12 years of campaigning, Alexander had created the largest Empire known to history
  11. 11. Alexander’s Empire Macedon Alexander’s goal was to “Hellenize” the world, by bringing Greek culture and learning To nations that the Greeks had long looked down upon as “barbarian”
  12. 12. But his conquest resulted in an extraordinary fusion of cultures, where Greek traditions mingled with Near Eastern customs, creating a culture that was entirely new
  13. 13. On this coin, for example, we see a profile of Alexander in the guise of Herakles (identifiable by the lion cap), and an image of Zeus on the other side
  14. 14. The concept of “divine kingship” was alien to the Greeks, but quite common in the territories newly conquered by Alexander, and so he adopted his leadership style to suit these new circumstances
  15. 15. In Egypt Alexander claimed descent from the god Amun
  16. 16. On this coin, we see Alexander wearing the ram’s horns associated with Amun, and on the other side is an image of Athena dressed in military attire, and holding a winged victory in her hand
  17. 17. He also married a Persian princess, and adopted the Persian custom of ceremonial kingship, demanding that his subjects perform the proskynesis in his presence
  18. 18. Marble Portrait of Alexander the Great, Hellenistic Greek, 2nd-1st century BC British Museum Since Alexander spent most of his career on campaign, there is little art that survives from his reign. But we do know that he was concerned about his “public image”
  19. 19. Marble Portrait of Alexander the Great, Hellenistic Greek, 2nd-1st century BC British Museum According to Pliny the Elder, Alexander “decreed that no one other than Apelles should paint his portrait, no one other than Pyrgoteles engrave it, and no one other than Lysippos cast it in bronze.”
  20. 20. Portrait of Alexander, Roman copy after original by Lysippos c. 330 BCE, Louvre There are several surviving portraits of Alexander, all of which were probably made after his death
  21. 21. Portrait of Alexander, Roman copy after original by Lysippos c. 330 BCE, Louvre In all of them, he is typically portrayed as youthful, beardless, and with a distinct wave of hair at his forehead called the anastolé
  22. 22. Head of Alexander from near Pella, after official portrait by Lysippos, ca. 200 - 150 BC Image source: http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/ART H209/late_classical.html Recognizable as “portraits” (they all probably look more or less like him), they are nevertheless infused with a quality of ideal beauty and charisma that set him apart from ordinary men
  23. 23. Alexander the Great, Marble, c. 320 BCE Getty Museum They also convey a charismatic presence, achieved through facial expression, and dramatically windswept hair
  24. 24. This is new – because Classical Greek statues were not meant to be “portraits” – instead, they were meant to represent a generalized “ideal”
  25. 25. But Alexander’s portraits fused the idealism of Classical statues, with a recognizable portrait likeness
  26. 26. Alexander the Great, Marble, c. 320 BCE Getty Museum Like the Head of an Akkadian Ruler, we see an individual being personally endowed with the divine glamour and charisma that only the gods possess
  27. 27. Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) c. 310 BCE Roman copy, from House of the Faun, Pompeii One of the most famous representations of Alexander can be found on the so-called “Alexander Mosaic,” which was found in a Roman house in Pompeii
  28. 28. A mosaic is made by pasting tiny pieces of colored stone in place to form the image
  29. 29. Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) c. 310 BCE Roman copy, from House of the Faun, Pompeii The mosaic is believed to be a copy of a (now lost) painting depicting Alexander’s epic battle against the Persian king Darius III at the Battle of Issus
  30. 30. Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) c. 310 BCE Roman copy, from House of the Faun, Pompeii Alexander can be seen to the left, riding fearlessly into battle on horseback
  31. 31. He wears no helmet, and his hair (with the distinctive peak at his forehead) is dramatically windswept
  32. 32. The Medusa head on his breastplate proclaims his support from the goddess of Athena
  33. 33. Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) c. 310 BCE Roman copy, from House of the Faun, Pompeii Darius III can be seen to the right, riding into battle in a chariot, while his army turns in retreat
  34. 34. The great Persian emperor’s eyes widen in fear as he sets sight on the godlike radiance of his foe
  35. 35. Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) c. 310 BCE Roman copy, from House of the Faun, Pompeii The mosaic reveals remarkably sophisticated techniques of illusionism, and since it is based on a painting, it can give us insights into Greek painting techniques
  36. 36. When we look at Alexander’s head, for example, it looks three dimensional, and round
  37. 37. The artist uses a technique called “modeling with light and shade,” where gradations from dark to light creates the illusion of volume
  38. 38. And look at this horse: instead of showing the horse from the side (which would have been easier), the artist has shown from behind – a much more difficult angle
  39. 39. This technique is called “foreshortened perspective,” where the object appears to project into space in perspective
  40. 40. An even more extraordinary display of skill can be found in the figure of the fallen soldier to the right
  41. 41. The artists has quite convincingly rendered his reflection in the shield!
  42. 42. Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) c. 310 BCE Roman copy, from House of the Faun, Pompeii The naturalistic style of the Alexander Mosaic draws on the highly developed skills of Greek artists, but the subject matter is very un-Greek
  43. 43. When the Greeks celebrated their victory against the Persians, they did not show an actual battle; instead, they depicted scenes from mythology that elevated their victory to the universal realm of myth
  44. 44. Battle of Issus (Alexander Mosaic) c. 310 BCE Roman copy, from House of the Faun, Pompeii In this sense, the Alexander Mosaic comes much closer to the Stele of Naramsin in its glorification of a godlike conqueror who defeats his enemy with ease
  45. 45. Thanks for listening!

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