Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

This grave stele commemorates Melisto, the daughter of Ktesikrates from the district of Potamos in Attica. The child mortality rate was high in the ancient world, but Melisto’s portrait offers reminders of life as well as death. She is shown as though at play, with a pet dog jumping up to meet her and sniff at the bird she holds in her hand. At a time when more dramatic sculptural models were available, the artist has portrayed Melisto in a subdued manner, referencing in his work Classical art of the fifth century BCE, and avoiding excesses of emotion. Holes drilled next to Melisto’s head suggest that she once wore a bronze wreath, and the whole stele would have been painted in naturalistic colors. The small doll held in her hand may be more than a plaything, and is perhaps a votive object of the type displayed in the case on the left.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Grave Stele of a Young Girl, "Melisto"
Work Type
c. 340 BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe, Attica
Classical period, Late
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3410, South Arcade
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Marble, probably from Sounion
95.5 cm h x 49.2 cm w x 10 cm d (37 5/8 x 19 3/8 x 3 15/16 in.)
[Ars Antiqua, Lucerne, 29 April 1961], sold; to Fogg Art Museum, 1961.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing and Gifts for Special Uses Funds in memory of Katherine Brewster Taylor, as a tribute to her many years at the Fogg Museum
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Grave Stele

An inscription written on a narrow architrave below the pediment reads:
Melisto, daughter of Ktesikrates, from the Demos of Potamos.

The stele is good-to-average Pentelic marble [probably not: identified as marble from Sounion by istope analysis - article in file]. The basic condition is also good, but "all the surfaces have been more or less recut" (J. Frel, letter of 15 June, 1973). There are faint traces of painted egg and dart motif above the inscription.

Melisto, daughter of Ktesikrates, holds a doll in her left hand and a bird in the right, and looks down toward the furry little dog springing up at her from the right. She wears a simple girt chiton, like a nightgown.

The deme of Potamos, whence Melisto came, was on the Attic coast, north of Sounion, south of Brauron, where statues of girls similar to this representation in relief were found in the sanctuary of Artemis. The head of a statue in this style and tradition is represented by no. 27 in this catalog [1922.72]. Melisto's somewhat frizzy hair and her smile are paralleled best by the head of a little girl ("bear") in a Swiss private collection (Chamay, 1975, no. 275).

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

Ars Antiqua, Auktion III, auct. cat. (Lucerne, Switzerland, 1961), p. 13, no. 22, pl. 9

Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions, 1959-1962, Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1963), plate, p. 121

John Griffiths Pedley, "An Attic Grave Stele in the Fogg Art Museum", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1965), pp. 259-276

John Griffiths Pedley and Elaine Gazda, Greek Sculpture in Transition, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI, 1981), no. 1

David Gordon Mitten and Amy Brauer, Dialogue with Antiquity, The Curatorial Achievement of George M. A. Hanfmann, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1982), p. 14, no. 42.

Hilde Rühfel, Das Kind in der griechischen Kunst, Verlag Philipp von Zabern (Mainz, Germany, 1984), pp. 176-177, fig. 73

Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 40, no. 24

John Bodel and Stephen Tracy, Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the USA: A checklist, American Academy in Rome (New York, 1997), p. 48.

Jenifer Neils and John Oakley, Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, Yale University Press (U.S.) (New Haven, 2003), pp. xviii, 307, cat. 124

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/Handbook (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008)

[Reproduction Only], Persephone, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 2011, p. 31.

Kenneth Kitchell, Penelope's Geese: Pets of the Anceint Greeks, Expedition: the Magazine of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA, 2011), vol. 53, no. 3, 14-23, p. 20, ill. 15

Was ist ein Mädchen? Der Blick auf die weibliche Jugend im klassischen Athen, Mädchen im Altertum (2014), p. 228, p. 228, fig. 7.

Elena Walter-Karydi, Die Athener und ihre Gräber (1000 – 300 v. Chr.), De Gruyter (Berlin, 2015), p. 291, fig. 177

Jenifer Neils and Dylan K. Rogers, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Athens, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2021), pp. 205-206, fig. 14.2

Exhibition History

Dialogue with Antiquity: The Curatorial Achievement of George M.A. Hanfmann, Fogg Art Museum, 05/07/1982 - 06/26/1982

Greek Sculpture in Transition, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, 01/29/1981 - 04/19/1981

Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, 08/23/2003 - 12/14/2003; Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, New York, 01/20/2004 - 04/15/2004; Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, 05/21/2004 - 08/01/2004; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 09/14/2004 - 12/16/2004

Gods in Color: Painted Sculpture of Classical Antiquity, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/22/2007 - 01/20/2008

Re-View: S422 Ancient & Byzantine Art & Numismatics, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 04/12/2008 - 06/18/2011

32Q: 3410 South Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

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