Head of Herakles (Alexander the Great?)

Greek
Early Hellenistic Period
late 4th century B.C.


Place of Manufacture: Greece, Laconia, Sparta

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 126; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 110 (additional published references).

Dimensions

Height: 24 cm (9 7/16 in.)

Accession Number

52.1741

Medium or Technique

Marble, from Mt. Pentelikon near Athens

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Sculpture

The head appears to have come from a statue, but it could have been part of a figure carved almost in the round against a background, in an architectural niche. The head is broken off diagonally in such a way as to leave the face and the edge of the surrounding lion’s skin preserved at the sides. The left front of the animal’s muzzle has been further damaged, and the tip of Herakles’s nose has also suffered. There is considerable incrustation on the right side of the face.
Images of the young, beardless Herakles became popular in the fourth century B.C.; the hero is identifiable by the skin of the Nemean lion, which he killed as one of his first labors. Alexander the Great used heads of the youthful Herakles on his silver coinage, and these images soon became identified as Alexander himself. The sensitivity and the youthful freshness of this sculpture have long caused it to be identified as a portrait of Alexander, whose uninterrupted chain of conquests amply justified a comparison with Herakles’ mythological exploits.

Provenance

By date unknown: Professor W. Romaine Newbold Collection (said to have been found by him at Sparta by 1908, according to Worcester Art Museum Annual, 1936-1937, p. 9); by 1910: Mrs. John Newbold Hazard Collection; loaned by Mrs. John Newbold Hazard to MFA, June 4,1910 (returned to Mrs. Hazard, June 29, 1911 and later on loan to Worcester Art Museum); by 1927: Mrs. D. H. Reese Collection (loaned to MFA, April 14,1950); purchased by MFA from Mrs. D. H. Reese, December 11, 1952, for $ 6,000.00

Credit Line

Otis Norcross Fund