Detail View: The AMICA Library: Grave stele of a youth and a little girl with finial in the form of a sphinx

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Creator Nationality: 
European; Southern European; Greek
Creator Name-CRT: 
Greek, Attic
Grave stele of a youth and a little girl with finial in the form of a sphinx
Title Type: 
Object name
Creation Date: 
ca. 530 B.C.
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
Classification Term: 
Stone Sculpture
Style or Period: 
Greek Attic
H. 13 ft. 10 11/16 in. (423.4 cm)
AMICA Contributor: 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Owner Location: 
New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1911, Rogers Fund, 1921, Munsey Funds, 1936, 1938, and Anonymous Gift, 1951

This grave monument is the most complete example of its type to have survived from the Archaic period. Fragments were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1911, 1921, 1936, 1938, and 1951. The fragment with the girl's head, here in a plaster copy, was acquired in 1903 by the Berlin Museum; the fragment with the youth's right forearm, also a plaster cast here, is in the National Museum, Athens. The capital and crowning sphinx are plaster casts of the originals, which are in the Metropolitan Museum (on view separately). Athletics were an important aspect of every boy's education. The youth on the shaft is shown as an athlete. The aryballos (oil flask) suspended from his wrist contained the oil used as a cleanser after exercise. He holds a pomegranate, a fruit associated with both fecundity and death, perhaps indicating that he reached puberty before his death. The girl, presumably a younger sister, holds a flower. This exceptionally lavish monument, which stands more than thirteen feet high, must have been erected by one of the wealthiest aristocratic families. Some scholars have restored the name of the youth in the inscription as Megakles, a name associated with the powerful clan of the Alkmeonidai, who opposed the tyrant Peisistratos during most of the second half of the sixth century B.C. The tombs of aristocratic families were sometimes desecrated and destroyed as a result of that conflict, and this stele may well have been among those pillaged.

The sphinx, a mythological creature with a lion's body and a human's head, was known in various forms throughout the eastern Mediterranean region from the Bronze Age onward. The Greeks represented it as a winged female and often placed its image on grave monuments to guard the dead. This sphinx, which retains abundant traces of red, black, and blue pigment, was carved separately from the capital on which it stands. Its plinth was set into a socket at the top of the capital and secured by a metal dowel and a bed of molten lead. The capital is in the form of two double volutes (spiral scrolls) in the shape of a lyre. The front face of the capital was originally painted with a design of palmettes and volutes.

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