Sepulchral stele

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Egyptian, possibly from Kom Abou Billou
2nd-3rd century CE
Purchased through the Hood Museum of Art Acquisitions Fund; S.978.41

This limestone funerary stele, possibly from the necropolis of Kom Abou Billou in Lower Egypt, would have been placed in a tomb along with the mummified remains of the dead.  The stele depicts the deceased—a reclining male figure resting his left elbow on two pillows while holding a two-handled libation cup in his right hand.  Although the relief serves the same function as earlier Egyptian funerary stelae in its illustration and commemoration of the dead, the influence of Greek and Roman styles are evident.

The male figure wears a traditional Greek chiton (tunic) and himation (cloak) and takes part in a ritual banquet. The reclining, banqueting figure is a motif with centuries of precedent in the Graeco-Roman world and more elaborate stelae of this type include detailed depictions of the foods, vessels, and other objects typically associated with the Greek and Roman banquet. Such objects, as well as an inscription identifying the deceased individual, may have originally been painted on to this stele, but could have faded with time. It is also possible that the stele was made in a workshop and never actually used, explaining the lack of an incised inscription. Unlike the highly individualized Fayum mummy portraits, mass produced sepulchral stelae such as this show little interest in capturing the specific likeness or personality of the deceased.

This text was prepared by Mellon Special Projects Intern Amanda Manker.

Not on view

Related exhibitions

Center and Periphery: Cultural Hybridity in the Funerary Arts of the Roman Provinces

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