Up until recently, the Roman adaptations of Classical Greek works of art have been belittled as mere replicas. But would we regard a performance of the music of Mozart today as a copy? The Romans thought of Greek art as their own — as did so many later periods and cultures, including ours.

The relief-decorated Athenian grave stelae on display here illustrate how this genre changed throughout its hundred years of history (430s BC — 317 BC). The earlier reliefs are shallow, the carving is hardly raised from the background. Figures on the later pieces become sculptural, they are carved almost completely in the round. There is a significant change in the meaning of the scenes as well. Although these reliefs almost always represent the deceased among their loved ones, scenes on earlier monuments are like genre pictures. The characters appear in a shared moment; it is often hard to tell which figure the stele commemorates. On the later reliefs, however, there is a sharp distinction between the dead and those left behind. They do not belong together, the living see only a memory of the deceased. (Further Athenian grave stelae are on display in Section A of the corridor.)