Sphinx seated on an Aeolic capital

Greek, South Italian
Classical Period
480–460 B.C.

Place of Manufacture: Italy, Calabria (probably)


Height x width x depth: 21.2 x 9.5 x 11.5 cm (8 3/8 x 3 3/4 x 4 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


Not On View


Europe, The Ancient World



The sphinx sits on top of an engaged Aeolic column with seven visible flutes. If continued as a full round column, it would have had nine flutes. The capital lacks the logic seen in built architecture: the point or wedge separating the volutes is below rather than above them, and both volutes are turned counterclockwise rather than in contrasting orientations. Nonetheless, the basic elements and the proportions are canonically Aeolic: large volutes are set close together above a narrow column. In Attica, at least, the order tended to be used not in architecture but for votive or funerary columns.
The lean body of the sphinx seems canine and her large paws leonine. Her swelling chest reflects the intermingling of woman and animal. The female part is fashionably elegant; she wears globular earrings and a hair net (sakkos), which covers the rear part of her head. The netting of the sakkos is indicated with with incised cross-hatiching.
The fragment may have come from a small ceramic household altar of the kind known from South Italy and Sicily. An identification of this piece as an arula is, however, not entirely certain. While arulae are highly variable in their proportions, this fragment is unusually shallow. (The original left rear edge is preserved.) Behind the engaged column, moreover, the support tapers, flaring upward both in front and side view, more like a table leg than an altar. The side panel expands from 5.8 cm. below to 6.7 cm. above. Altars whose form suggests tables are known, and the maker of this piece may also have borrowed from furniture design. There seem to be no close parallels, however, for the specific form of this example.
The piece is made from orange-brown clay with many coarse white impurities. It is finished at the left rear but broken on all the other edges.
(from J. Herrmann, The Centaur’s Smile, cat. no. 72)


By early 1990s: with Ariadne Galleries, Inc., 970 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021; by early 1990s to 1993: purchased from Ariadne Galleries, Inc. by Ariel Herrmann; gift of Ariel Herrmann to MFA, December 28, in memory of Lucia Torossi

Credit Line

Gift of Ariel Herrmann in memory of Lucia Torossi