Column and capital with abstract and mythological designs

Classical. Cast of the original in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Cypriot, Limestone, Middle of the 5th Century BCE.

This funerary stele is topped with an Aeolic capital. The central scene above the volutes depicts two facing sphinxes on either side of a sacred tree. Not much is known about the stele’s original location; however, the motifs that are depicted on it are ancient. Their presence here demonstrates the exchange of cultural and artistic influences that occurred between the civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.

Sphinxes originated in Egypt as a form with a lion’s body and a human head. The motif of the sphinx was adopted by cultures in the Ancient Near East who altered the form to include wings. The winged form of the sphinx then spread to the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean where it was employed frequently as a funerary motif. The motif of the sacred tree is more mysterious. It originated in ancient Mesopotamia sometime during the 4th millennium BCE. This motif spread throughout the ancient Near East and Aegean. While its exact meaning remains lost to history, most scholars conclude that it likely had religious significance.

  • cast gallery
  • cypriote