Tomb relief of a young man


Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

One of the most famous artists from antiquity was Praxiteles. He had an enormous influence on other sculptors, as is apparent in this tomb relief. Praxiteles, who was active in the fourth century B.C., was a master in rendering the so called contraposto: in this sculptural scheme the weight is resting on one leg, thus causing the other leg to rise from the ground. This causes the pelvis to tilt and the shoulders to turn into the opposite direction. The body’s posture starts moving. The muscles are compressed and stretched and the sculpture flows into motion in a way that yet seems balanced and harmonious.
This rectangular tomb stone features a nude youngster leaning against a gnarled tree-trunk. A cloak is slipping off his left shoulder. He is holding a small pigeon by its wings, his index finger pressing down its head. Below the pigeon their used to be a little dog. This was hacked away during restoration work in the 19th century.
In antiquity, birds and dogs were popular as pets. They often feature on children’s tomb stelae. Possibly they serve to refer to the pleasures of youth. The pigeon stood for meekness and childlike innocence. The animal also symbolized the soul leaving the body after death.

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