Edited by Luca Giunta Baroni

The plastic rendering, the whites of the eyes and the cut of the neck suggest that this virile head is inspired by a classical sculpture1. As the characteristic bipartite tuft on the forehead suggests, the latter is to be identified in one of the most famous marbles of the late Renaissance, the Bust of Alexander the Great dying.

The best-known prototype, a Hellenistic copy formerly believed to be the original by Lysippus (and the only surviving portrait of the great king), is first documented in 1550 in the Roman collection of Cardinal Pio da Carpi (fig. 1).

Hellenistic artist, Dying Alexander. Florence, Uffizi Galleries
Fig. 1. Hellenistic artist, Dying Alexander. Florence, Uffizi Galleries

It subsequently passed to the Medici collections in the Uffizi, probably at the end of the 16th century2. In his Idea del Tempio della Pittura (1590), Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo emphasized how “the great sculptor Lysippus ... sculpted, much larger than the natural one, the wounded Macedonian Alexander... In this statue he expressed with singular magisterium the great concavity of the eyes, the squaring of the nose and of all the other members with supreme harmony and consonance with each other, which squares then imitated the modern Polidoro, Michelangelo and Raphael, to embellish our modern way as well as the ancient one. And this with great judgment, since... the head is particularly esteemed by art experts as the rarest and most artificial in the modern world"3.

Cristofano Roncalli, Dying Alexander. Haarlem, Teylers Museum.
Fig. 2 Cristofano Roncalli, Dying Alexander. Haarlem, Teylers Museum.

This enthusiasm is confirmed by the uninterrupted series of drawings, sketches, copies and derivations executed by various artists between the 16th and 17th centuries, among which those of Girolamo da Carpi in his Roman notebook (c. 1553), Bartolomeo Passerotti and Cristofano Roncalli (fig. 2).

Our sheet shows great commitment and executive refinement. It fits into the type of drawing taken from a classical sculpture. The author adopts an unusual frontal point of view, aimed at highlighting the expression of the dying head. The gradual adjustment of the edges produces an effect of vibration and movement. Stylistically, the drawing can be dated to the first quarter of the 17th century.

It is more difficult to determine the area of origin which is probably Florentine or Central Italian. The elaborated hatching and a certain Pontormo-like sensuality of the lips closely resembles some studies on the heads by the aforementioned Roncalli, although the popularity of the subject requires caution on more precise attributive hypotheses4.

1 On this practice see Kurtz 1942, pp. 222-226; New York 1988; Pierguidi 2015, pp. 363-377, and the recent essay by Calogero 2021, pp. 193-208, with prev. bibl.

2 Erkinger Schwarzenberg, From the Alessandro Morente to the Alexandre Richelieu. The Portraiture of Alexander the Great in Seventeenth-Century Italy and France, “Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes”, XXXII (1969), pp. 398- 405;

Maria Chiara Monaco, Ancora sull’«Alessandro morente» della Galleria degli Uffizi, “Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Römische Abteilung”, 113 (2007), pp. 175-206.

3 Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, Trattato dell’arte de la pittura, Milano 1584, p. 43.

4 Florence, Uffizi, GDS, no. 453 R recto / verso. On Roncalli’s studies after classical heads see Northampton /Ithaca 2012-2013, pp. 30-33, no. 28 (entry by Andrew C. Weislogel).

Otto Kurz, A sculpture by Guido Reni, “The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs”, LXXXI (1942), pp.222-226

Creative copies. Interpretative drawings from Michelangelo to Picasso, exh. cat. (New York, The Drawing Center, 1988), ed. by Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, Carolyn Logan, London 1988

Stefano Pierguidi, Il “Seneca” di Guido Reni e il dibattito sul primato tra Naturale e Antico, “Strenna storica bolognese”, LXV (2015), pp. 363-377

Marcello Calogero, Drawing tradition: Malvasia, Alfonso Lombardi, and the use of models in Bologna, “Master drawings”, LIX, 2 (Summer 2021), pp. 193-208

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