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Work Funerary Bust

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)

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This bust reflects the originality of funerary art in the periphery of the Greek world in the late classical period. Although inspired by Attic models, the workshops of Cyrene expressed their difference with effects of transparency in the sculpted drapery and a presentation that was unusual in Athens. The image of the deceased was designed as a half-statue, truncated at the waist, presented in or on the tomb, in accordance with a well-attested tradition in Libya and the Cyclades.

A draped female bust

This funerary bust from the late classical period comes from Cyrene, a major city in Libya and colony of the Greeks of Thera (Cyclades). It was acquired in 1852 after the French excavations conducted in Cyrenaica in January 1848 under the direction of Joseph Vattier de Bourville, who unearthed several marble statues from the tombs and from a hypogeum in the western necropolis. The face of the deceased face is slightly inclined, and wears a melancholy expression. The young woman is dressed in a tunic (peplos) and wrapped in a cloak (himation), which also veils her head. She has a snake-shaped bracelet on her left wrist.

The custom of funerary busts

The image of the deceased was designed as a half-statue - a rare case in Greek art, which generally represented the human body in its entirety. The bust is more or less life-size and truncated at the waist, in accordance with a well-attested tradition in Libya and the Cyclades (in the necropolises of Thera, Delos, Paros, and Amargos). It was placed on or inside the tomb of the deceased. Such busts seem to have been customary in Cyrene from the late sixth century BC through the late classical period. The early examples had no faces: only the hair was represented. These aniconic busts appear to correspond to local beliefs, as it seems that the statues first represented divine figures rather than the deceased. The interpretation of these funerary busts, which seem to rise up out of the ground, is still uncertain. A reference to the goddesses of the underworld Demeter and Kore (better known as Persephone) has been suggested because of the veil (a characteristic element of the iconography of these goddesses) and the snake-shaped bracelet (symbolizing the chthonic powers).

The workshops of Cyrene

This bust, which was sculpted circa the mid-fourth century BC, reflects the originality of funerary art in Greek North Africa. The workshops of Cyrene took their inspiration from Attic models, but developed their own style with effects of transparency in the drapery, perceptible here where the cloak covers the right hand. Their conception of the work also differed from that of the Athenians, who often adorned their tombs with large, full-size statues.


M. Hamiaux, Les sculptures grecques, I, 2e édition, Paris, 2001, p. 253, n 271.
Th. Serres-Jacquart, "Joseph Vattier de Bourville (1812-1854). Notes sur un explorateur de la Cyrénaïque", Journal des savants, juillet-décembre 2001, p. 414-415, fig. 8, p. 424.
The Western Greeks, G. Puliese carratelli (éd.), venise, Palazzo Grassi, 1996, p. 441, fig., p. 757, n 416.
L. Beschi, "Divinità funararie cirenaiche. Storia delle Ricerche", Annuario della Scuola Archeologica di Atene, N.S. 31.32, 1969-1970, p. 281, n 105, fig. 96.
M. Collignon (M.), Les statues funéraires dans l'art grec, Paris, 1911, p. 305-306, fig. 194.
J. Vattier de Bourville, "Rapport adressé à M. le Ministre de l'Instruction et des cultes par M. Vattier de Bourville, chargé d'une mission dans la Cyrénaïque", Archives des Missions scientifiques, 2, 1851, p. 580-586, pl. 1-2.

Technical description

  • Funerary Bust

    Circa 350 BC

    Necropolis of Cyrene (Libya)

    Cyrene (Libya)

  • Sculpture in the round, marble

    H. 71 cm

  • J. Vattier de Bourville mission, 1852

    Ma 1777

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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