The subject of Alexander the Great preoccupied Vincenzo Gemito for a decade. During this period he returned to the legendary conqueror time and again, producing some of his most iconic works. The series began with a pencil drawing made in 1912, shortly after the sculptor emerged from twenty years of seclusion which followed a mental breakdown. The drawing was inspired by a small bronze of Alexander the Macedonian in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. The Mask of Alexander
was created around 1920 alongside profiles of the hero in high and low relief. Gemito sought out fourteen different antique portraits of Alexander to study. He famously concluded that ‘When I saw Alexander and found that he resembled what I had created I realised that if an artist is ignorant of the past he can never produce a masterpiece.’
The Mask of Alexander differs from the two reliefs in the style of the modelling. Both the high relief bust (terracotta in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna inv. 5043) and the low relief medallion are characterised by a delineation of form and a jewel-like level of detail. The Mask, in contrast, preserves the immediacy of the artist’s conception as he worked the clay.
M. Pagano, Gemito, exh. cat. Museo Diego Aragona Pignatelli Cortes, Naples, 2009, pp. 210-17, nos. 80-86; B. Mantura, Temi di Vincenzo Gemito, Rome, 1989, pp. 127-128