Beginning in the Geometric period (the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.), the graves of affluent Greeks were frequently marked by conspicuous monuments above ground. In early tombs from Athens, large painted vases often served as memorial markers. Beginning in the sixth century, numerous types of stone statues, including standing nude youths and maidens, horsemen, and animals, adorned the burial plots of the wealthy. The most popular form of burial marker, however, was the grave relief or stele, a carved tombstone with painted or sculpted decoration.
This beautiful, veiled head of a young mourning woman comes from such a marker, either from a deeply carved and recessed stele or perhaps from a freestanding statue. The soft, refined modeling and proportions of the head and the serene, thoughtful gaze reflect the stylistic influence of the fourth-century Greek sculptor Praxiteles. At present it is unclear whether the Art Museum’s head is a contemporary work of the fourth century B.C. or a late Hellenistic revival of the Praxitelean style dating to the second or first century B.C.