Though most works of art have some underlying, deeper meaning attached to them, our first impression of their significance comes through our initial visual interpretation. When we first view a painting or a statue or other piece of art, we notice first the visual details – its size, its medium, its color, and its condition, for example – before we begin to ponder its greater significance. Indeed, these visual clues are just as important as any other interpretation or meaning of a work, for they allow us to understand just what that deeper meaning is. The expression on a statue’s face tells us the emotion and message that the artist is trying to convey. Its color, too, can provide clues: darker or lighter colors can play a role in how we judge a piece of art. The type of lines used in a piece can send different messages. A sculpture, for example, may have been carved with hard, rough lines or it may have been carved with smoother, more flowing lines that portray a kind of gentleness.
The Marble Grave Stele is a horizontal piece that was embedded in a larger piece of marble. The inscriptions of the names of who died have long been lost. Thus, we must interpret for ourselves what the full meaning of the piece is. The artist of the piece is unknown, but it was constructed in Greece in around 360 B.C. during the Classical Era and stands at 171.1 centimeters in height. Its original location, as its name suggests, was at a gravesite; currently, it is located in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Stele was carved from marble. Overall, it is in good condition; however, the body of the woman on the left is missing with only her head surviving. Its stone frame in which it was set is also missing. This frame more than likely contained the inscriptions of the names of the people buried at the grave where it was located. There is no color; it is only made of simple marble.
The Stele depicts a simple scene: a seated man and standing woman behind him stare blankly straight ahead. A woman standing on the left looks down upon them. All of them are ordinary humans. They are not gods or goddesses. They are private people. Their clothing is plain, consisting of simple robes. It is representational of a regular family mourning the loss of one of its members, a scene that most people, even today, are able to relate to hundreds or even thousands of years later.
The stele conveys a solemn forlornness that can be seen in the figures’ faces. Their mouths are tightly shut; their eyes gaze blankly ahead. The woman on the left stares ahead with little emotion on her face. The stele does not depict any motion. All of the figures are standing (or sitting) still, in quiet memorial. This solemnity adds to the emotion of a grave where the stele once stood. There is no real clear answer as to who is being mourned. Are the seated man and the...