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India, Golconda, perhaps made for the European market

Portrait of Alexander the Great

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Object Details

Culture

India, Golconda, perhaps made for the European market
Mughal

Date

second half of 17th century

Medium

Opaque watercolors and gold on paper

Dimensions

10 1/8 x 7 1/4 inches (25.7 x 18.4 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Emanuel Klein, Class of 1924

Object
Number

56.211

Alexander the Great appears frequently in the Natural History—as patron of Aristotle (in his role (…)

Alexander the Great appears frequently in the Natural History—as patron of Aristotle (in his role as zoologist), model for artists, founder of cities, and conqueror of distant lands. Accounts of Alexander’s campaigns in Central and South Asia inform much of Pliny’s geography of these regions, including their many “marvels.”

While Alexander served as a model for Roman emperors seeking to expand their territories and open trade routes in the East, he also inspired a complex afterlife in the lands he invaded. In medieval Persia, the figure of Iskandar/Sikandar was celebrated as a mythical philosopher-king. Drawing on Pseudo-Callisthenes’ late antique Alexander Romance, epics by Persian poets such as Nizami Ganjavi (ca. 1141–1209) inspired Central Asian rulers with a model of conquest, philosophical inquiry, and prophecy that was enthusiastically embraced by the Mughal court in particular.

Combining Persian, Indian, Chinese, and Renaissance European traditions, Mughal art specialized in painted miniatures, often of portraits in profile. This image of Alexander wearing a Phrygian cap and carrying a flower is typically naturalistic in style and demonstrates a Mughal interest in botany that resonates with Alexander’s Persian identity as a seeker of knowledge.

(Verity J. Platt, “Wonder and Wakefulness: The Nature of Pliny the Elder,” exhibition organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, curated by Andrew C. Weislogel and Verity J. Platt, presented at the Johnson Museum January 21–June 11, 2023)

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