Culture: Greek, Greek-Classical
Period: Greek, Classical, ca. 375 - 350 B.C.
Dimensions: H: 66.7 cm x W: 50.8 cm x D: 17.8 cm
Sotheby’s New York, June 18, 1991, lot 89;
US private collection.
Surface is weathered with some soil deposits, a few cracks and chips; the proper right side and central akroteria on the pediment are broken off and missing; damaged are the man’s nose, fingers of his left hand and sleeve, right arm and hand, and right hand of the figure from the absent right side of the relief.
The captivating figure of this draped and bearded man is sculpted in very high relief on a marble stele which, if not of Greek island marble, is made of the equally fine stone from quarries on Mt. Pentelicus as are similar stelai known from Athens. The curling locks of the man’s hair and beard, furrowed and creased brow, and his full, slightly parted lips, all convey the image of the bearded male type known from similar masterworks of sculpture created in the Classical style of the fifth century B.C. The figure on this stele is heavily influenced by this earlier style, which tended to present mature Greek men as bearded and wrapped in himatia, perhaps to suggest the intellect and cultivation of the philosopher type. The man’s expressive face embodies an aura of pathos – a harbinger of emotion that becomes clearly evident in the sculpture of the Hellenistic period that follows. Therein is one of this bearded figure’s unique aspects, as it expresses a restrained stoic classicism combined with the more poignant aspects of human emotion found in Hellenistic sculpture.
The head of the bearded man is almost three dimensional as it is deeply carved, which allows the left side of his face – unseen from a front view of the stele – to be well-modeled as well. He is framed by an architectural setting that sets him within a naiskos, which suggests the façade of a small temple, here partially preserved and comprised of a vertical pilaster with a simple capital supporting a triangular pediment. Such pediments were embellished by a floral palmette at the top with smaller semi-palmettes at the right and left ends of the structure. The man stands with his shoulders sloping as he subtly bends forward, loosely wrapped in a himation, with the garment worn in the usual manner for this figural type. The cloak is draped over both shoulders leaving his chest bare and his left arm covered as his hand grasps the edge of the himation and its cloth gathered in horizontal folds below the pectoral muscles. The left hand is life-like, sculpted with sensitivity to its anatomical structure of bone and muscle, with even the finger nails finely delineated. With his head bent forward and looking down, he extends his equally well-modelled right hand to clasp the hand of a seated figure, a woman, who is now partially preserved with only her right arm and hand apparent, and part of the garment she wears, a himation, visible as a shallow-carved curving element above the arm. The gesture of clasping with the right hand can be interpreted as one of departure, the dexiosis, and the emotional state of the bearded man is made clear as he bids a touching farewell to a family member. Above the man’s head is a narrow architrave bearing the Greek inscription, ?????????, that provides the name, Lexidemos, which likely refers to the bearded figure. One of the closest parallels for the stele under consideration here, and of similar date, is the notable Pentelic marble stele of Ktesilaos and Theano in the Athens National Museum.
Finely made marble funerary sculpture and monuments from Athens and the surrounding region of Attica were distinguished from their beginnings in the 6th century B.C., during the Greek Archaic period. In the early 5th century B.C., after the Persian Wars and subsequent rebuilding of the Parthenon, the Acropolis and the city of Athens itself, a new series of sculpted monuments, both sumptuous and of high quality, were created beginning about 430 B.C. The custom was maintained well into the 4th century B.C. and this fragment of a grave stele with a bearded man is of the Late Classical type. Major figural stelai like this example, of such quality and state of preservation, are rare. They were expensive in antiquity and reflected on the status of a family as much as on the merits of the departed. Ultimately influenced by masterworks of the High Classical period, such as the marble reliefs of the Parthenon and sculpture in the round, they rank among the few examples of this type of classical sculpture that has survived from antiquity.
BOARDMAN J., Greek Sculpture: The Late Classical Period, New York, 1995, p. 116 and fig. 127, for the stele of Ktesilaos and Theano, ca. 380 – 360 B.C.; pp. 114 -117, for funerary sculpture of Athens and Attica.
CLAIRMONT C., Gravestone and Epigram, Mainz, 1970.
CLAIRMONT C., Classical Attic Gravestones, Kilchberg, 1993.
DIEPOLDER H., Die attischen Grabreliefs, Berlin, 1931.
JOHANSEN K., The Attic Grave-Reliefs of the Classical Period, Copenhagen, 1951.
KALTSAS N., Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Los Angeles, 2002, p. 158, no. 310, for the comparable stele of Ktesilaos and Theano, ca. 380 – 360 B.C., H. 93 cm, W. 50 cm, Athens NM no. 3472, Pentelic marble, found in Athens in 1921; and additional Late Classical Period stelai, pp. 180 – 207.
REEDER E., Hellenistic Art in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, 1988, p. 75, no. 5, for a fragmentary relief with a similar image of a draped and bearded male figure; acc. no. 23.174, probably Pentelic marble; purchased from Brummer in 1924.
SCHMIDT S., Hellenistische Grabreliefs: Typologische und Chronologische Beobachtungen, K?ln 1991.