Analysis of Kallimachos’ Grave Stele of Hegeso

By Zoe Hopkins ’18


Kallimachos (attributed to), Grave stele of Hegeso, c. 410 BC. While there has been debate over the attribution of this funerary relief, most scholars agree that it was crafted by Kallimachos. Kallimachos (also spelled Callimachus), was a prolific sculptor working in Athens and Corinth at the end of the 5th century BC. Art historians typically refer to this period as the high classical period. Kallimachos was known for his strikingly detailed sculpture, especially in his funerary monuments. During the high classical period, private funerary sculpture became very popular in Athens.

Much of the funerary sculpture produced during the high classical period were called steles, (usually) marble grave stones with elaborate relief sculptures. Steles were commissioned by wealthy Greek families to honor dead loved ones, and typically depicted a scene that was meant to be set within the home. Steles were meant to be displayed in periboloi tombs, private family graveyards.

The Hegeso stele was found just outside Athens. This Pentelic marble stele is renowned as one of the finest stele surviving from the high classical period. In the relief scene unfolding before us, we see Hegeso, the seated woman to which the statue is dedicated, opening a box of jewelry that her servant is presenting to her. Hegeso’s feet rest on a footstool, a detail likely meant to signify her high rank. The sculpture possesses a solemnity that is quite suitable for its purposes. Hegeso looks down in an almost meditative way as she admires what art historians believe was once a necklace painted on to the stone. The drapery and veil she wears are quite delicate and draw us in to the sculpture. Even though he was working in a shallow space, Kallimachos carved the sculpture so that the viewer would get the illusion of Hegeso’s entire body. Hegeso and her servant are surrounded by two pilasters that signify that we are inside a home, enhancing the intimacy of our interaction with the sculpture. On the epistyle, the strip just above the relief “Hegeso, daughter of Proxenos.” The inscription recalls that women in Ancient Greece were non citizens, and defined by their relationship to men.

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