Greco-Romano culture, late Hellenistic to early Roman, ca. 2nd to 1st century BCE. A magnificent marble stela of pentagonal form, skillfully carved with the relief of a funerary banquet between a male and female and topped with a 3-lined Greek inscription dedicated to the wife of Atiphos, who lived to be 60 years old, and his son Roupheinos, who lived to be 21. On the right, the male lays semi-recumbent on a small bed, leaning with his left elbow atop a pillow. His left hand holds a drinking cup, while his right is raised and bears a wreath - a popular funerary motif. The woman sits to the left, draped in a himation to convey mourning, the corners of which she grasps in each hand, as she points upwards with her left arm. A petite table is shown before them. Size: 20" L x 2.6" W x 18.7" H (50.8 cm x 6.6 cm x 47.5 cm)
Prior to the 2nd century, Romans cremated their dead; around that time, inspired by the Greek and Etruscan practice of using sarcophagi, they began to place their dead in sarcophagi. This trend spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. In the western part of the Empire, sarcophagi were placed inside a mausoleum against a wall or in a niche, so the only decorated panels were on the front and the short sides. This stele probably came from the grave of a high-status Roman citizen.
A carved relief stele such as this one was part of a long tradition of marking the graves of elite and even some middle-class Greek citizens. This item would have once been brightly painted. The pentagonal form of the stele is meant to imitate a small temple known as a naiskos.
Similar examples can be found at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology under object number MS4023 and as no. 277 in "Sculpture in Stone, The Greek, Roman and Etruscan collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" by Mary B. Comstock and Cornelius C. Vermeule (Boston, 1976).
This piece has been searched against the Art Loss Register database and has been cleared. The Art Loss Register maintains the world’s largest database of stolen art, collectibles, and antiques.
Provenance: ex-private New Jersey USA collection, acquired prior to 2000; ex-Christie's New York, June 14, 1993, "Antiquities" (Auction 7694), lot 94
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Softening of finer details in areas, especially on top and sides of inscription. Losses to nose and mouth area of both figures. Expected surface wear with some nicks and abrasions. Otherwise, excellent.