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An Ancient Greek Gravestone

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"Why me? Why did I have to go so soon? I could have done more with my life. Who is going to take care of the children?" These are thoughts that could have poured through the mind of the woman in the marble stele. The chosen piece is a marble grave marker from the mid-fourth century B.C. It depicts a woman sitting to the right side, with her left side facing the world, in a chair with her head half covered by a shawl of some sort.

The stele, which is made of marble, is forty-eight and one eighth inches high, and it was found sometime before 1827 in Acharnae, Menidi, in Attica. There isn't much known as to who carved it, or as to whom it is a carving of. This could be because in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a great deal of great artifacts, especially sculptures were gathered up and collected by Europeans (Art of the Western World). This caused some statues to be damaged during their transports, and many of them have lost pieces of their histories due to the harvesting of these artworks en masse. This piece in particular was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1948, as part of the Harry Brisbane Dick Fund (MMA postcard). Its purpose is the only thing that is really known, and that is that it is a grave marker. However, it is still beautiful and charming nonetheless.

Based on the Story of Art, the untitled marble stele would be classified as a Classical piece of art. This means that the Greeks of the time tried to capture true human essence by portraying people as beautiful, but trying to portray real positions of people at the same time. The artists tried to break away from the stiffness of the archaic style. It infuses ideality with reality.

The woman, proportionally, looks like the size of an average woman, but she has a beauty to her. Her face is smooth, and her nose, although it is broken, is the ideal size. Her nose, mouth and eyes are all properly distanced from each other. Perhaps this is what the woman who died looked like at her prime in life, or maybe this is how she looked before she died. Yet, it may not even be the person for whom the grave marked. Perhaps it is supposed to be a goddess watching over one of her priests or a mother looking down on her poor, dead son.

Whoever wrote the information at the museum was reminded of a quote by Aristotle that pertains to death. The quote reads, "In addition to believing that those who have ended this life are blessed and happy, we also think that to say anything false or slanderous against them is impious, from our feeling that it is directed against those who have already become our betters and superiors" ("Of the Soul," quoted in Plutarch, A Letter to Apollonius 27). This passage accurately describes the emotion that emanates from the piece.

The stele is a sandy, marble, not a bright, sun-bleached one. It has been eroded and damaged over time, but the viewer can still imagine what it looked like when it was first carved all those years ago. The artist of this piece definitely didn't struggle with the use of movement. The way this piece flows together expresses that clearly. The woman is draped in a shawl or robe, and it covers the majority of her body. With her right hand, she is holding some of the material away from her face so that it can be seen. This also exposes some of her hair, which is braided across the top of her forehead, creating a border between her face and hair. Her nose has been chipped off, but this hardly disturbs the tranquility and harmony of the piece. It just makes the woman appear even more somber.

Her gaze is one of reflection too. It is a question of what she is reflecting upon, her own life or another's. This evokes a sense of sadness or heartbreak possibly. Her eyes, although they are only a sandy-white marble without further detail, tell her viewers that she is serious, and they try to produce empathy.

The woman is missing body parts though, and it is unsure whether the sculptor ever gave them to her. Her absence of legs adds to her sad look. If she did have legs at one point, they could have added to the mood of the piece. If they were crossed, the woman could have looked more relaxed. If the were straight, she could've looked more majestic. And, if they were strewn about, she may have looked more in thought. It looks as though she did have legs at one time and they were broken off.

Her ears are also not visible, and this is slightly puzzling. Although, from the angle of the viewer, only her left ear would have been visible anyway. This may have been an oversight on the part of the sculptor, but the ear was probably intentionally put under the cloth. The lack of an ear or any other small detailed object on the left side of the face may be to show the smoothness of the marble or the flowing curvature of the face.

Her chair is hardly that of a peasant, and the artist crafted the chair with exquisite detail to ensure that the viewers knew the status of the woman. When looking closely at the chair, it can be interpreted as being more of a throne. She has a cushioned seat,



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