The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Conception of Alexander the Great

Object Details


The Conception of Alexander the Great






Ghent, Belgium (Place Created)


about 1475


Tempera colors, gold leaf, and gold paint on parchment

Object Number:

Ms. Ludwig XIII 5, v2 (83.MP.148.2), fol. 1v


Leaf: 43.8 × 30.5 cm (17 1/4 × 12 in.)

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Object Description

The Macedonian queen Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, sits holding her belly as her ladies-in-waiting leave her bedchamber, unaware of the ram-headed man slinking into the room. This strange figure is actually the magician and Egyptian king Nectanebo. Most versions of the legend of Alexander claim that Nectanebo, the last native Egyptian pharoah, prophesied for Olympias that she would be visited and conceive a child by Ammon, an Egyptian god with the body of a man and a ram's head. While King Philip was away on military campaign, Nectanebo disguised himself as Ammon, visited the queen's bedroom, and impregnated her. The resulting child was Alexander, whose legendary life was widely celebrated in the Middle Ages. In the Getty Museum's copy of the Mirror of History, Alexander's popular story is told in a series of eight miniatures.

The Making of a Hero: Alexander the Great from Antiquity to the Renaissance (October 22, 1996 to January 5, 1997)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), October 22, 1996 to January 5, 1997