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Work Attic funerary stele of Baco, Socrates and Aristonike
Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)
Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)
This funerary stele in the form of a small temple is dedicated to the deceased: Baco, Socrates and Aristonike. It contains a scene involving six characters: surrounded by serving women, one of whom holds a newborn baby, a seated woman and a small boy bid farewell to a standing woman. The characters are more numerous than on early fourth-century steles, and have started to become detached from the background, situating this monument in the mid-fourth century BCE.
A stele depicting six figures
This stele takes the form of a naiskos (a small temple). Two pilasters support an architrave and a pediment, the latter decorated with a bird sculpted in very low relief and topped with acroteria. The architrave bears an inscription giving the names of the deceased: Baco, Socrates, and Aristonike. Unfortunately, concretions have made these difficult to decipher. Inside this architectural framework are a number of figures. A woman stands to the left; parting her veil in a gesture that tells us that she is one of the deceased: this is Baco. She clasps the hand of a seated woman, Aristonike, who looks up at her. A small boy - Socrates perhaps - reaches for Baco. Behind, a serving woman holding a small box puts her hand to her face. To the left, another serving woman carries an infant in swaddling clothes.
A family farewell
A number of iconographic indicators identify this scene immediately as one of farewell to the deceased. The clasping of hands between Baco and Aristonike, known in Greek as the dexiosis, is a recurrent feature in Greek funerary stelae, representing a conventional gesture symbolizing the deceased bidding farewell to his or her family.
The servant putting a hand to her face in sorrow and the gesture of the deceased parting her veil are also common features of funerary steles.
This relief depicts a family group surrounded by serving women, whose numbers are an indication of the family's wealth. Aristonike, slightly more imposing in stature, is probably Baco's mother. The small boy is almost certainly Baco's son, reaching for her in a tender sign of farewell. Finally, the presence of the infant, Baco's second child, tells us that she died in childbirth. The name of Aristonike appears to have been added to the architrave after the other two, indicating that she died after her daughter.
This monument demonstrates the development of Attic funeral steles from the fifth century BCE. Architectural settings were adopted, and steles became larger, so allowing increasing numbers of figures to be added to the scene. Here we also find the fifth-century Classical style, noble and simple in style and expressing the sorrow of the event with restraint and by means of codified gestures. In one exception, however, the features of the serving girl in the center betray a certain pathos that is closer to the fourth century BCE.
In addition, the exceptional number of figures, as well as the high relief in which they start to stand out from the background, are also indications that this is a work of the fourth century. Later monuments would feature figures in very high relief, until the sumptuary laws of the tyrant Demetrius of Phaleron put an end to the production of Attic funerary steles in 317 BCE.
BibliographyC. W. Clairmont, Classical Attic Tombstones, vol. IV, 1993, n 4910, pp. 149-50
M. Hamiaux, Les sculptures grecques au musée du Louvre, t. I, Paris, 2001, n 156, p. 162
Attic funerary stele of Baco, Socrates and Aristonike
Pentelic marble (region of Athens, Greece), sculpted in relief
H. 1.47 m; W. 0.92 m
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