This sculpture was inspired by an antique bust of Alexander the Great in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. It was made by Carlo Albacini, one of Rome’s leading sculptors in the 18th century. Albacini trained in the studio of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi and was also a well-known restorer of antique sculptor. English collectors often commissioned his workshop to produce copies after antique busts and sculptures. In common with many other sculptors at the time, Albacini was also a dealer in antiquities.
Alexander the Great was the King of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon. He focussed his rule on expanding his empire and spreading Greek culture. By the age of thirty he had conquered much of the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, with land stretching to North West India and Egypt. Alexander was tutored by Aristotle. Among his classmates was a Macedonian of similar age named Hephaestion, who became his lifelong and beloved companion. Though Alexander married at least three wives, his relationship with Hephaestion continued. Macedon bisexuality was commonplace and men often had relationships between other men and women alongside their marriage. It was also widely believed that a male lover’s presence could inspire military heroism and create bonds between warriors. When Haphaestion died in 324 BC Alexander was consumed by grief. He lay for hours on the corpse and could not be comforted. He ordered funeral rites on a gigantic scale.
This bust belonged to the prominent art collector Henry Blundell, who displayed his vast collection of Roman sculptures at his estate in Ince Blundell. Blundell also commissioned Albacini to produce a copy of a colossal marble head of Lucius Verus in 1776. He was introduced to Albacini by another famous art collector, Charles Townley. Blundell wrote about this bust in his ‘Account of the Statues, Busts etc. at Ince’: ‘There is something very grand and noble in the character of this bust which denotes a great man’.