In Focus

Greek Figure of a Young Man from a Funerary Relief[1966.26]

The following essay is from the 1996 publication Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art_._

This figure of a young man is made of pentelic marble and stands in a relaxed pose with the left leg crossed over the right. His right hand rests on his hip, creating a distinctive pose often associated with military commanders. A cloak draped over his left shoulder is the only apparel on his otherwise nude body. The athletic strength of the figure as well as his nude youthful form, add to the belief that the man represented here has been heroized in death. The figure was once part of a funerary relief and was set into a gabled tomb facade that is commonly found among Athenian grave monuments of the fourth century B.C.E. The head, right hand, and feet, as well as parts of the left arm, are lost. However, the angle of the upper left arm indicates that the figure was gesturing or holding something out to his left. The man's torso is turned slightly in that direction, and the neck muscles indicate that the head was as well.

These are almost certain indicators that a second figure of equal stature stood next to the young man. This could have been a man or a woman, father or wife, who has survived the young man. The presence of such a figure was an integral part of the original composition and was designed to symbolize the dramatic contrast between life and death. An excellent parallel to such a scene is found on the contemporary Ilissos monument in Athens in which an old man faces a nude youth, whose pose is strikingly similar to that of the DMA figure. The old man in the Ilissos monument is in lower relief than the youth before him and gestures in a contemplative manner, perhaps expressing a father's loss of a son. The supposed second figure in the DMA monument would perhaps have been carved in shallower relief as well, a practice that gives greater imortance to the figure in high relief and suggests further that he is the deceased.

Although the DMA figure in its original form was not meant to be a portrait, it did represent an individual of Athens whose life was spent in a society substantially changed from that of the preceding century. Athenian art of the fourth century B.C.E. reflects this change, and it is manifested in the DMA monument. The placement of two figures, one living and one deceased, within the gabled frame of the funerary relief does more than focus attention on the symbolic contrast between life and death; it underscores the finality of death on a personal level by depicting individual characters in a family setting. The death of the individual is felt most keenly by the family survivors, and it is they who confront the image of the deceased in a symbolic final farewell. This glimpse into personal tragedy is reflective of Late Classical society and far removed from that of the polis in fifth-century B.C.E. Athens when tragedies were measured at the state level. There is no greater contrast between 4th century B.C.E. individualism and 5th century B.C.E. solidarity than that exemplified by the personalized spirit expressed in Late Classical grave markers and Pericles' funeral oration of 430 B.C.E., in which the state losses were commemorated as a group.

Excerpt from

Anne R. Bromberg and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 77.