Date: ca. 520–510 B.C.
Culture: Greek, Attic
Medium: Terracotta; black-figure
Dimensions: Overall: 10 1/4 x 14 1/4 x 3/8 in. (26 x 36.2 x 0.9 cm)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1954
Accession Number: 54.11.5
In the late sixth century B.C., terracotta plaques like this one often decorated the walls of tombs. Typically, they were decorated with images that evoked myths and customs of ancient Greek funerary practices. A prothesis, or laying out of the dead, is depicted in the upper main register of this plaque. After having been bathed and clothed, the deceased has been laid out on a high bier with his feet set facing the door, as was customary in ancient Greece. The two cushions under his head would have prevented his jaws from sagging open. Mourners standing on either side of the bier gesture with their hands and pull at their hair. In the lower register, three quadrigas (four-horse chariots) race to the right. Each of the charioteers wears a belted white chiton.
The chariot race is a recurrent theme in Attic funerary art. Its iconography may evoke the funeral games held in honor of legendary heroes, such as those described in Book 23 of the Iliad, when Achilles honors his deceased friend Patrokles.