Discoveries made since the end of the 19th century surrounding the (now submerged) ancient Egyptian city of Heracleum at Alexandria include a 4th century BC, unusually sensual, detailed and feministic (as opposed to deified) depiction of Isis, marking a combination of Egyptian and Hellenistic forms beginning around the time of Egypt’s conquest by Alexander the Great in 332–331 BC. However this was atypical of Ptolemaic sculpture, which generally avoided mixing Egyptian styles with the Hellenistic style used in the court art of the Ptolemaic dynasty, while temples in the rest of the country continued using late versions of traditional Egyptian formulae. Scholars have proposed an “Alexandrian style” in Hellenistic sculpture, but there is in fact little to connect it with Alexandria.
Marble was extensively used in court art, although it all had to be imported, and use was made of various marble-saving techniques, such as using a number of pieces attached with stucco; a head might have the beard, the back of the head and hair in separate pieces. In contrast to the art of other Hellenistic kingdoms, Ptolemaic royal portraits are generalized and idealized, with little concern for achieving an individual portrait, though coins allow some portrait sculpture to be identified as one of the fifteen King Ptolemys. Many later portraits have clearly had the face reworked to show a later king. One Egyptian trait was to give much greater prominence to the queens than other successor dynasties to Alexander, with the royal couple often shown as a pair. This predated the 2nd century, when a series of queens exercised real power.
In the 2nd century, Egyptian temple sculptures began to reuse court models in their faces, and sculptures of a priest often used a Hellenistic style to achieve individually distinctive portrait heads. Many small statuettes were produced, with the most common types being Alexander, a generalized “King Ptolemy”, and a naked Aphrodite. Pottery figurines included grotesques and fashionable ladies of the Tanagra figurine style. Erotic groups featured absurdly large phalli. Some fittings for wooden interiors include very delicately patterned polychrome falcons in faience.