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Work Votive relief

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Relief votif, scène de culte au héros Thésée

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

According to the engraved inscription, this stele was dedicated to Theseus by Sosippos in the late fifth century BC. The relief depicts a religious scene that takes place at a low funerary altar, characteristic of heroic cults. Accompanied by his son, the dedicant makes a gesture of greeting to Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens. The hero, here shown larger than life, was venerated in Athens as the Father of the Athenians, the founding ancestor of the civic community.

An offering by Sosippos to Theseus

Philippe Le Bas purchased this stele in 1845 during an archaeological expedition through Greece and Asia Minor, approximately five years after the piece was discovered. Two inscriptions in Greek are engraved in the upper part of the relief: one mentions the name of Theseus, the legendary founder of the city-state of Athens, and the other commemorates the individual offering the piece: "Sosippos, son of Nauarchides, dedicated [this stele]". The relief depicts the dedicant paying homage to Theseus. The two are shown either side of a low funerary altar. The Athenian hero is larger than life, nude, with one hand placed on the pilos (a brimless cap) on his head. He was probably leaning on a painted staff, now lost, which supported the drapery beneath his left arm. Sosippos advances to meet him, his right hand raised in a gesture of greeting. A young boy, no doubt his son, accompanies him to the altar, wrapped tightly in his cloak.

A votive relief from the Classical period

This relief was carved in the Classical period, in the final years of the fifth century BC. It is very much in line with the tradition of the carved reliefs that adorned the Parthenon, in particular the frieze of the Great Panathenaea, created some thirty to forty years earlier. The scene is one of great solemnity; its formal composition follows the same model as the relief depicting the priests and the procession of the Ergastines towards Athena, on the east side of the Parthenon (Ma 738). As in the Parthenon carvings, the figures on the stele are placed against a plain, undecorated ground. Their faces and drapery are based on the same Classical aesthetic.

The heroic cult of Theseus

In the fifth century BC, Theseus held an important place in the civic religion of the Athenians. According to legend, Theseus was the son of Aethra and Aegeus, the king of Athens. Upon the death of his father, Theseus brought about the political unity of the various Attic communities. In the Classical period, the founders of the various city-states were honored as heros. A heroic cult was thus dedicated to Theseus and celebrated at his tomb in Athens (his remains were repatriated from the island of Skyros by the Athenian general and statesman Cimon, around 464 BC). Theseus is venerated as the Father of the Athenians, the ancestor of the civic community.

Bibliography

Hamiaux (M.), Les sculptures grecques, I, 2e édition, Paris, 2001, p. 142, n 135

Technical description

  • Relief votif, scène de culte au héros Thésée

    Vers 400 avant J.-C.

    Athènes

  • Marbre du mont Pentélique (Athènes, Grèce)

    H. : 59 cm. ; l. : 57 cm. ; Pr. : 7 cm.

  • Mission Ph. Le Bas, 1845 , 1845

    Scene from the cult of Theseus

    N° d’entrée LP 2647(n° usuel Ma 743)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Venus de Milo gallery
    Room 8
    Vitrine 3

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Additional information about the work

Inscription in Greek: "Theseus. Sosippos, son of Nauarchides, has dedicated [this stele]".