Highlights exhibition

Pietro Antonio Rotari (1707–1762), Alexander the Great and Roxana, Oil on canvas, 1756

This painting depicts a historical event, Alexander’s meeting with Roxana, daughter of a prominent Bactrian tribal leader and his prisoner. The ancient kingdom of Bactria was situated in northeast Afghanistan. Alexander decided to gain the support of the Bactrian nobility by marrying Roxana. The Greek writer Plutarch tells the story in Alexander, XLVII, 7.

Alexander is seated beneath the awning of his tent. He gestures towards his helmet, sword and armour, which he has cast aside, in order to indicate his peaceful intentions, and gazes at Roxana who modestly lowers her eyes. Weeping ladies-in-waiting plead for mercy, fearing the meeting will end badly.

Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734), Apelles painting Campaspe, Oil on canvas, circa 1705

Breastplate from a cuirass, Italy, late 16th century, Steel, ivory, forged, carved

This steel breastplate is covered with round bone platelets and (lion) masks. The soldier in the central portrait wears a helmet with a crest in the form of a mythical creature, the hydra. The cuirass imitates scale armour, which was used from antiquity.

Gérard Audran (1640–1703), after Charles Le Brun, Alexander the Great crossing the Granicus, 1672, Etching, burin, printed on four sheets

Engravings after Charles le Brun’s Alexander paintings

Le Brun painted his picture series, The history of Alexander, also known as Alexander’s triumphs, between 1660 and 1665. They were commissioned by the French king Louis XIV to glorify himself as the new Alexander. The series formed an allegory of the Sun King’s reign and quickly became famous. Engravings of the series The history of Alexander were officially spread throughout Europe by the court of Versailles, in volumes of Cabinet du Roi prints.

Antoine Marie Melotte (1722–1795), Six reliefs: the military triumphs of Alexander the Great, The Magnanimity of Alexander the Great, in 4 sections, Liège, c. 1777–1780, Boxwood

This panel depicts one of the most famous episodes from the life of Alexander the Great: his visit, accompanied by Hephaistion, to the tent of the Persian king’s family. Alexander allowed Darius' mother, wife, son and two unmarried daughters to retain their extensive staff whilst in captivity and treated them with every respect accorded to royalty. His behaviour towards his prisoners gained him almost as much renown as his military successes. The success of Le Brun’s painting Persian queens at the feet of Alexander the Great encouraged the artist to produce a series of pictures of Alexander the Great’s victories in battle.

Tapestry: Alexander the Great and Darius’ Family from the History of Alexander the Great series, after cartoons by Charles Le Brun. Flanders, Brussels, Jan Frans van den Hecke workshop. 1661-95, Wool, silk, silver thread, 451 x 690 cm

Head of Alexander (fragment of a statuette), Asia Minor, Roman, 1st century AD, copy of a Greek original from 175–150 BC, Fine-grained marble

Few accurate portraits of Alexander have survived, although many were made after his death, based on others from his lifetime. This head derives from a portrait from Pergamon, modelled in its turn on a work by Lysippos, Alexander’s court sculptor. The head is somewhat inclined while the mane-like hair is also characteristic of Alexander’s portraits.

Black-figure hydria: Achilles with the Body of Hector, Attica, c. 510 BC, Leagros Group, The Antiope Painter, Clay

Achilles is one of the most important heroes in Greek mythology. A contradictory character, he was prone to great rages yet was also capable of showing mercy. Alexander the Great displayed similar traits. His tendency to emulate Achilles may have provided him with an excuse for unpredictable behaviour.

Heracles with the Apples of the Hesperides, Roman, 2nd century AD, after a Greek original of 350–300 BC, Marble

Heracles fighting a lion, Rome, fragments of the 2nd–3rd century AD, with additions and restoration made in Italy, probably 17th century, Marble

The Greek hero and demigod Heracles was one of Alexander the Great’s role models. Here Heracles is fighting the Nemean Lion, one of his twelve labours. Heracles had murdered his wife Megara and their children; to avoid pursuit and punishment by the Furies he was required to perform ten almost impossible labours. He received help with two of these so another two were added to the list. Heracles’ superhuman strength and guile enabled him to successfully complete all twelve.

This figure is a ‘pastiche’, a compilation of ancient fragments supplemented by later elements that probably date from sixteenth or seventeenth-century Italy.

Earrings with figures of Nike, Greek, c. 350 BC, Gold

Alexander’s campaigns of conquest made Nike, the goddess of victory, exceptionally popular. Monumental figures were made of her, and also delicate pieces of jewellery such as these earrings, thought to be copies of a much larger statue.

Portrait study of one of the Ptolemies, Egypt, 3rd–1st century BC, Limestone

This portrait of a king, with royal nemes or headdress and uraeus snake on the forehead, is a sculptor’s model. Although the features are standardised and conventional, it can nevertheless be identified as a portrait of one of the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt, from the period of the Macedonian dynasty.

Cameo: Alexander-Helios as Horus-Harpocrates, Egypt, 1st century BC, Sardonyx

Alexander Helios, son of Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, was intended by his parents to become the ruler of Armenia, Media and Parthia. He spent some time in Mauretania at the court of Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene, and her husband Juba II. After the death of his mother he vanished from history.

Head of a helmeted Hellenistic ruler, Eastern Mediterranean (?). 2nd-1st century BC, Bronze, brown patina, h 5.7 cm

Opening hours

Daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Closed on 25 December 2014 and 27 April 2015
Open on 1 January 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.

© State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The Hermitage Amsterdam is located on Amstel 51, Amsterdam

Photo Janiek Dam

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