Greek Marble Female Head of a Young Woman
Greek · Middle-third quarter of the 4th century B.C.
H: 26 cm
This delicate face full of classical beauty is a telling example of fine workmanship in Attic sculpture. The head was part of a relief, which was originally a large marble slab sculpted nearly in the round and under life size. Several entirely preserved Greek funerary gravestones, especially of Attic origin, have survived from Antiquity. They present various examples of relief compositions, of which two major types with female figures can be distinguished: the deceased is represented standing or seated on a chair; the deceased is alone or accompanied by a servant or relatives, or both. When alone, the figure may hold a mirror or, if young, a doll or a pet; sometimes a dog is represented at the deceased person’s feet. Often, the scene may depict a farewell; a deceased woman may receive a jewelry box from a servant girl or is shown shaking hands with a relative (handshaking is intended to show the continuing familial connection).
In Greek funerary reliefs of the Classical and Late Classical periods, there is no indication of an interior or a landscape; space is conceived in a conventional way. A stele is usually designed as a piece of architecture; it is framed by two side pillars (antae) and a pediment, forming a naiskos, a small temple. From the mid-4th century B.C., Greek sculptors started to use deeper space inside the block, making it possible to include a group of figures sculpted almost three-dimensionally. While the architrave can bear an inscription that mentions the name of the deceased person and his or her relation to other members of the family, it is sometimes not clear who is the deceased among the figures represented. Judging by the typical composition of such groups and by the spatial relationship between the figures, the deceased person is rarely shown from the front; he or she is most often seen in profile or in a three-quarter view.
Looking from the side, one observes that the transition of the head to the background, roughly modeled by the sculptor’s chisel, occupies almost a third of the entire volume. This means more space behind the figure of the girl (first plane) to include additional figures (second plane). She was doubtless one of a group of people surrounding the seated person. One also observes the slight turn of the head to the left, as seen in the line of the left part of the neck, the slight foreshortening of the shape of the left half of the face and the modeling of the eyes (her right eye has the eyeball positioned to the left). This young woman could well have been on one side gazing at a seated figure, or she could have been behind the seated figure with her gaze turned slightly away. Although there is a chip on her right cheek, it is not enough to indicate the original presence of a finger or palm applied to her face in a gesture of grief.
The so-called Venus rings on the neck indicate that this is not a youngster or a teenager, but a young woman. The curls of the hairstyle are rendered in a very generic manner; there are no earrings and there is no veil. Consequently, this is likely to be a maid, rather than a daughter or a sister of the deceased person.
The treatment of the stone yields a smooth surface and the features of the face are carefully modeled: slender cheeks narrowing towards the prominent dimpled chin, full lips on a small mouth drilled at the corners, almond-shaped eyes with heavy lids, bridge of the nose merging with sharp-ridged eyebrows. Viewed from side, an elegant and noble profile is revealed.
Excellent state of preservation. The head does not have any serious damage except for two small chips on the right eyebrow and cheek and a big chip on the right side of the neck. The marble is weathered.
Art market, prior to late 19th century;
Ex- Austrian private collection, Vienna, said to have been collected in the late 19th-early 20th century;
Sotheby’s London, July 2, 1996, Lot 104.
Sotheby’s London, July 2 1996, Lot 104
Marble Mania, New York, 2017;
PAD London, 2017
On similar heads in frontal view, see:
CLAIRMONT C.W., Classical Attic Tombstones, Kilchberg, 1993, Vol. 3, nos. 3.453, 3.456, 3.459a; Vol. 4, no. 4.422.
On Attic grave stelae, see:
GROSSMAN J., Greek Funerary Sculpture: Catalogue of the Collections at the Getty Villa, Los Angeles, 2001, pp. 8-71.
LEADER R.E., In Death Not Divided: Gender, Family, and State on Classical Athenian Grave Stelae, in American Journal of Archaeology, 101 (4), October 1997, pp. 683-699.
RIDGWAY B.S., Fourth-Century Styles in Greek Sculpture, Madison, 1997, pp. 157-170.