Parian marble; H. 31 1/2 in. (80 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1927 (27.45)
Grave stelai, like this one, would have been erected in Greek cemeteries in memory of the deceased. On this particular relief, a little girl, standing in profile, bows her head with a seriousness unusual in someone so young; her face is serene and strong. The child wears a peplos, a simple woolen garment folded over at the top and fastened at the shoulders. The unsewn edges fall open in a cascade of folds along her right side. Smooth against her legs, the fabric clarifies the pose of the body beneath it. The gentle gravity of the child is beautifully expressed through her sweet farewell to her pet doves. She holds one bird affectionately close, and it seems to nestle up to her; the other perches on her left hand. Children often appear with their pets on Classical grave reliefs, and these doves must be the little girl's favorites.
The stele was found in 1775 on the Greek island of Paros, one of the Cycladic Islands in the Aegean Sea. Many of the most skillful stone carvers in antiquity came from the Cycladic Islands, where marble was plentiful. Parian marble was highly prized in antiquity, and is still considered one of the finest marbles for carving sculpture. The restrained beauty of this figure brings to mind the youths carved on the frieze that encircles the outer walls of the Parthenon, one of the many buildings erected on the Athenian Akropolis in the mid-fifth century B.C. under the Greek statesman Perikles. Many artists came to Athens at that time for employment and the sculptor of this grave monument could well have been among them.