Upper part of a grave stele: seated sphinx (sphinx and capital)

Archaic Period
about 530 B.C.

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 017; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 106 (additional published references); Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 159.


Height: 141.7 cm (55 13/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble, either island (sphinx and plinth) or Pentelic (capital)

On View

Archaic Greece Gallery (Gallery 113)


The Ancient World



Sphinx and plinth were carved in island marble separately from the Pentelic marble capital. This plinth was let into a socket at the top of the capital and secured in a bed of molten lead. There is a large socket on the underside of the capital, with a pour hole from the back side. The abacus and the base of the capital are flush with the volutes, and all surfaces have been smoothed, except the plinth of the sphinx, which shows point or punch marks.
The sphinx crouches to the right, with hind-quarters lifted and head turned to the front. The end of her curving tail rests on her right haunch. The hair, originally black, is shown as a mass descending to the shoulders and divided vertically and horizontally by grooves. The feathers of the wings are carved in relief and were painted alternately green, black, red, and blue. The feathers on the breast form a scale pattern, painted in alternate rows of red and green. The rib of each wing and the flat molding at the top of each foreleg are green.
The capital is of lyre design, consisting of two double volutes, with palmettes in all the interstices. It is open in the center and richly decorated with incised and painted designs. The front and ends of the base are enriched with a delicately carved guilloche. The abacus has four-pointed stars set on three-petaled palmettes, three in front and one on each end. The outer sides of the volutes are incised and painted with a large lotus and palmette pattern. Alternating red and black colors complement the form, carving and incision.
Sphinx and capital have been broken into a number of pieces and rejoined, with slight restorations at the joins. There is more restoration in the lower part of the capital than elsewhere, but this is to a great extent supplanted by an extra piece acquired nearly twenty years after the original purchase was first undertaken. The surfaces are very fresh. The fragments with the parts of the dedicatory inscription have the handsome golden yellow patina of the best Pentelic marble.

See: 40.724a-b for inscribed fragments.

See also Cls. Inv. 186.
Nov. 2012: please note that Cls. Inv. 186 is actually 40.724b.


Said to have been found in Vari, near Sounio, Greece [see note 1]. July 23, 1930, sold by Edward Zoumpoulakis (dealer), Athens, to Brummer Gallery, New York (stock no. P7165); 1940, sold by Brummer Gallery to the MFA for $65,000 [see note 2]. (Accession Date: October 10, 1940)

NOTES: [1] According to the Brummer Gallery stock card. [2] Acquired with MFA accession nos. 40.724a and 40.724b.

Credit Line

1931 and 1939 Purchase Funds