The Dying Alexander of the Uffizi

In the mad rush from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus to the Doni Tondo many visitors to the Uffizi Gallery miss an impressive collection of antique sculpture in the corridor.  Many stop at the windows, seen above, to take in a spectacular view of Ponte Vecchio but fail to even notice the impressive and important bust in the corner.

The Dying Alexander, greek marble, 72cmProbably an original hellenistic piece, this bust was discovered in Rome in the early 16 century.  Its identification as an image of Alexander is derived from a statement from the Roman historian Plutarch.  There was plenty of conjecture that the head was the work of Lysippos.

More importantly is the influence this sculpture had on Italian Renaissance and Baroque art.  The upward twisting spiral movement and skyward gaze is used repeatedly from the 16th and onwards.  One can see the movement in Michelangelo’s Dying Slave.

Dying Slave

The central figure from Rapheal’s affresco of Parnassus also shows an influence.

Detail of the affresco, Parnassus

The list goes on and on, including artists such as Guido Reni, Domenichino, Bernini, and even Titian.  This pose eventually became the archetype for the depiction of martyred saints and heavenly bound Madonnas.

Guido Reni, St. Sebastian
Domenichino, St John the Evangelist, church of S. Andrea della Valle

Detail from Titian's Assumption of the Virgin
The forms created in the antique were investigated, studied and applied to contemporary art because of their universal qualities.   Art comes from art.  That in no way diminishes the creativity of the artist.  It simply connects him/her to the visual language of the human experience.  So the next time you happen to be in the Uffizi, take a moment to appreciate the beauty, power and grace that is expressed in this piece of marble.

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