art, funerary, Greek

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Archaic period

(c.700–c.480). The period's chief innovations were the funerary statue and carved gravestone. Kouroi (standing, usually nude, youths) marked graves on Thera by c.630. Funerary korai (standing, draped, young women) appear shortly after 600, as do painted and sculpted gravestones. At Athens, these stelai soon became lavish, until banned by sumptuary legislation, apparently c.490. Athletes, warriors, hunters, and elders are common subjects. The less rich or less pretentious continued to favour earth mounds, though built tombs of stone or brick appeared c.600.

Classical Period

(c.480–c.330). At Athens, the legislation mentioned above decreed that no tomb could be made by more than ten men in three days. So, until c.430 Attic funerary art is restricted to white‐ground lēkythoi: small, clay oil‐flasks usually painted with domestic or mourning scenes in applied colour. Some show scenes at the tomb itself, complete with lekythoi standing on the stepped bases of the simple stone slabs that now served as grave‐markers.

Around 430, for reasons perhaps relating either to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (431) or the plague (430), grave‐stelai began to reappear in Athens. They soon developed a standard repertoire of subjects: athlete, warrior, mistress and maid, father and son, married couple, family group, funeral banquet, and so on. Though most are in the form of small shrines in high relief, low‐relief slab‐stelai furnished a cheap alternative; stone lekythoi were also popular, and unmarried women received a marble loutrophoros (vase used in nuptial bath). Dead and living are often linked by a handshake, and the mood is usually sombre. During the 4th cent., the stelai became larger and more elaborate, until Demetrius 1 of Phaleron banned them in 317.

In Asia Minor, Greek architects and sculptors built sumptuous tombs for local rulers. In Lycia, the most elaborate is the ‘Nereid Monument’ from Xanthus, now in the British Museum. Constructed c.380, it consisted of a square podium embellished with battle‐reliefs and surmounted by a small Ionic temple; Nereids stood between the columns. The Carian ruler Mausolus used many elements of this design for his Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Begun c.365, this most grandiose of all sculpted tombs was widely imitated.

Hellenistic period

(c.330–c.30). Alexander 2 the Great's sumptuous hearse set a new standard in funerary magnificence. His own mausoleum at Alexandria has disappeared, but other royal tombs have survived. In Macedonia, kings and aristocrats were buried in vaulted chambers painted with a wide variety of subjects: hunts, Amazonomachies, Centauromachies (see centaurs), Hades and Persephone, chariot‐races and so on. The most famous of these, Tomb II at Vergina (see aegae), was probably constructed for King Philip Arrhidaeus and Eurydice (d. 317/6). Sculpted monuments include the ‘Alexander Sarcophagus’ from Sidon.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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