This imposing portrait head of Alexander the Great is a highlight of the Pestalozzi Collection and a witness to the long history of collecting ancient works of art. Formerly part of the renowned collection of ancient sculpture at Marbury Hall, Cheshire, this portrait was collected by the Honorable James Hugh Smith Barry (1746-1801) in the 18th century. The Marbury Hall collection featured several important works, many of which have now found their way into museums worldwide, including the famed statue of Jupiter at the Getty Villa and a portrait bust of the Empress Livia now in Liverpool. Marbury Hall was host to some of the most famed travelers and art historians of the 19th century, including James Dalloway, Comte de Clarac and Adolph Michaelis. It is in the mold of Grand Tour collecting that Dr. Anton Pestalozzi built his collection and it is fitting that he also opened his doors to scholars, dealers and experts in ancient art, much as Barry and his descendants did two centuries prior. As M. Bieber notes (p. 72 in Alexander the Great in Greek and Roman Art), “The Romans adopted Alexander’s idea that harmony, peace and brotherhood ought to unite all mankind without regard to their race...Thus the brotherhood of men which Alexander had wished came true in the Roman Empire.” To that end, this monumental portrait of Alexander the Great works to unite the Pestalozzi Collection and speaks to the diversity of cultures, people, and personalities of the ancient Classical world assembled within.
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Surviving portraits of Alexander the Great are noteworthy for their wide range of styles employed to portray his unique physiognomy. The treatment of his leonine hair, for example, can be long and wavy on some portraits, while others emphasize the characteristic anastole or cowlick, not present on this example. Some show the Macedonian ruler with a pronounced crease in the forehead, as here, but this trait is not universally found on all portraits. Ancient writers tell us that Alexander issued an edict that only Lysippos should cast his image in bronze, only Apelles should paint his portrait, and only Pyrgoteles should engrave his image on gems (see D. Pandermalis, Alexander the Great, Treasures from an Epic Era of Hellenism, p. 15). Several portraits in bronze were commissioned, including the most famous, a standing figure of the Macedonian king holding a lance. While the original does not survive, Plutarch (De Alexandri Fortuna, 2.2) informs that his head had an upward tilt, giving him a sharp and penetrating look. Many small bronzes survive that seem to be inspired from this famous type (see the example at Harvard and another at Stanford, nos. 287 and 501 in P. Moreno, Alessandro Magno, Immagini come storia).
Portraits of Alexander continued to be made throughout the Hellenistic period and beyond. The Roman love of important historical characters, coupled with their insatiable demand for Greek works of art, meant that portraits of Alexander continued to be popular well into the Roman Imperial period. Alexander is depicted here with large eyes with modeled lids, slightly parted lips, and the characteristic creased forehead. His thick leonine hair is swept up at the forehead in with locks breaking to the left and right. Deep drill work is used throughout to accentuate his unruly hair.
When Adolph Michaelis catalogued the contents of Marbury Hall in 1882, the present head was attached to a colossal body, now located in a European Private Collection. Michaelis did not, however, consider this sculpture to represent Alexander, writing, “The youthful head, which shews well-rounded forms, is surrounded by rich, long, curly hair, not, however, arranged in the manner characteristic of heads of Alexander, which by its inclination towards the [left] shoulder it otherwise resembles” (see Michaelis, op. cit.). The author considered the sculpture to represent Helios on the recommendation of the archaeologist George Scharf who compared the head to depictions of the sun god on coins from Rhodes, but he left open the possibility that it could also portray a Dioscuri. These attributions contradict Comte de Clarac who, 40 years prior, notated the sculpture as “Alexandre le Grand” when he reproduced a drawing of the work (see de Clarac, op. cit.).
Jucker (op. cit., p. 30) contends that this portrait cannot represent Helios - or even a composite Alexander-Helios type - for the head does not have holes for which separately-made rays would be inserted. The individualized facial features - including the creased forehead - are more akin to Alexander than Helios and the parted lips are also characteristic of the Macedonian ruler. Moreover, while the head today looks forward, it would have originally been turned to the right, a feature seen in several Hellenistic and Roman examples of Alexander (see cat. 1 in D. Pandermalis, op. cit.). The treatment of the hair in the Pestalozzi Alexander, cascading down in thick, layered locks, is further related to an example in Lecce (see no. 303 in P. Moreno, ed., Alessandro Magno: Immagini come storia).
That a late Antonine-early Severan date is ascribed to the monumental Marbury Hall Alexander conforms to political developments of the era. As N. Yalouris explains (p. 13 in The Search for Alexander), “Alexander, the king of Macedon, played a more dominating role in the life of the Roman state than perhaps any other single figure. After the final conquest of Greece, and with it in the mighty Macedonian state, the Roman emperors represented themselves as successors of Alexander the Great.” The Emperor Caracalla (r. 212-217) commissioned a series of gold medallions to link the Severan Dynasty to Alexander’s family, thus suggesting an improbable lineage that conferred legitimacy onto their rule. Caracalla and his successors heaped honors on Macedonia and the last Severan reigned as Severus Alexander (r. 222-235) in homage to the eponymous leader (see cats. no 10-11 in The Search for Alexander). At least two other monumental figures of Alexander from the same period are known: one found in the Roman Baths at Cyrene and one in Wilton House (see Bieber, op. cit., pp. 75-76).
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This head of Alexander the Great was collected by the great antiquarian James Hugh Smith Barry (1746-1801) of Belmont and Marbury Hall, Cheshire, England. A noted connoisseur and collector of ancient and Renaissance art, Barry travelled to Italy several times between 1771 and 1780. In 1772, Barry visited Herculaneum and Pompeii with his friend and mentor, the British collector Charles Townley. It was during this trip that Townley introduced Barry to the dealer Thomas Jenkins, who subsequently supplied him with many of the marbles that would end up in Marbury Hall. As I. Bignamini and C. Hornsby inform (pp. 234-235 in Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth-Century Rome) Jenkins took advantage of his new client and sold him works at highly inflated prices; indeed, it is believed that a statue of Antinous, excavated at Ostia by Thomas Jenkins and sold to Barry for £1000, was one of the highest prices paid in the 18th century for a work of ancient art. Barry’s relationship with Jenkins soured with the collector defaulting on payments before a settlement was reached in 1777. In 1780 Barry returned to Rome and purchased the famed Marbury Hall Zeus, formerly in the Villa d’Este, through the artist and dealer Gavin Hamilton (see Getty Villa no. 73.AA.32). It was also during this trip that Angelica Kauffman painted Barry’s portrait.
It is unknown precisely when the statue of Alexander the Great was collected by Barry and sent to Marbury Hall, although he almost certainly purchased it either through Jenkins or Hamilton prior to 1780. The first recorded instance of Alexander appears in an 1819 volume published by his son, John Smith Barry, where it is listed as “Alexander, Colossal” (see A Catalogue of Paintings, Statues, Busts, etc. at Marbury Hall, the Seat of John Smith Barry, Esq., in the County of Chester, op. cit.). The elder Barry wished that a museum be built in the form of a Greek temple to house his collection, though this idea was never seen to fruition. Indeed, Michaelis (op. cit., p. 501) writes that “the statues and busts are very unfavorably disposed in the dark Sculpture Gallery, which is more like a cellar.” He further notes that Alexander and a colossal draped female statue once stood in two niches in the entranceway but were later moved outside to the court.
Marbury Hall and its contents were kept in the Barry family until 1932 when Robert Raymond Smith Barry sold the Hall and its land. The house eventually landed with a Warrington builder, George Smith, who converted the estate into the Marbury Hall Country Club that featured a newly-built eighteen-hole golf course and a large swimming pool. In 1948 Marbury Hall was once again sold to the London-based Imperial Chemical Industries who used the Hall as a hostel for its employees until 1961 when it was sold to the developer Leslie Fink and Company. Marbury Hall was demolished in 1968.
The fate of the famed art collection is not as easy to discern; some works were sold around the time of the estate sale in 1932 while other items were presumably kept within the family. A sale conducted by Arber, Rutter, Waghorn and Brown of London in March 1933 included a group ancient sculptures and works of art. Three sales at Sotheby’s in May, June and July of 1933 included books, manuscripts, Old Master paintings and three ancient sculptures sold by the Barry family. A later sale in July 1946, also conducted by Sotheby’s, included many works from the collection including a group statue of Dionysus and a Bacchante and a large statue of a poet or a philosopher. The last major sale of works formerly from Marbury Hall occurred at Christie’s in July 1987 when several important portrait busts, urns and sculptures were dispersed.
In their updates to Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, C.C. Vermeule and D. V. Bothmer take account of the remaining statuary at Marbury Hall twice but do not mention Alexander. Instead they primarily list the items that had appeared at auction, cross-referencing them with Michaelis’ numbers (see “Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain,” AJA 59, no. 2, p. 142 and “Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, Part Two,” AJA 60, no. 4, pp. 336-337). In correspondence with Jucker, Vermuele notes that “The Marbury Hall larger sculptures lay by the highway near the front gate when I.C.I. used the Hall” (Jucker, op. cit., p. 33, n. 6).
Indeed, it appears that Alexander was a local celebrity in the mid 1950s-1960s. Several photographs preserved by the Friends of Anderton and Marbury show Alexander in-situ outside of the Hall where groups would pose with the monumental sculpture, affectionally referred to as “Big Alex.” This celebrity did not last, however, when Marbury was purchased in 1961. An article reveals that the new owners relegated the remaining artworks to a heap in the woods from where they were sold, perhaps without knowledge of their rich histories (see R. Westall, “The Death of Marburry,” Cheshire Life, February 1969, pp. 34-35).
The reintroduction of the Marbury Hall Alexander onto the international market represents an important moment to reestablish its provenance and take note its remarkable history over the last three centuries.