The J. Paul Getty Museum

Grave Stele For Helena

Object Details


Grave Stele For Helena






Roman Empire (Place Created)


A.D. 150–200



Object Number:



61 × 31.5 × 16 cm (24 × 12 3/8 × 6 5/16 in.)

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Object Description

A Maltese dog in the architectural setting of a naiskos, or small shrine, decorates this Roman grave relief. The inscription on the relief reads, "To Helena, foster daughter, the incomparable and worthy soul."

Was the Helena commemorated by this sculpture a dog or a girl? The Romans made grave reliefs for animals, but these usually took a different form and their inscriptions specify that they were intended for an animal. On the other hand, funerary monuments for children often show the child with a favorite pet. In this instance, however, the pet is shown alone, which might be more appropriate if Helena was not a high-born Roman. The inscription appears to support this interpretation because the word alumnus, although here translated as "foster daughter," can also mean a slave raised in the house.

by 1749

Villa Sinibalda (Rome, Italy)

after 1848/by 1872

William Lowther, 2nd earl of Lonsdale, English, 1787 - 1872 (Lowther Castle, Cumbria, England), by inheritance to his heirs, 1872.

1872 - 1876

Henry Lowther, 3rd Earl of Lonsdale, 1818 - 1876, by inheritance to his heirs, 1876.

1876 - 1882

St George Henry Lowther, 4th Earl of Lonsdale, 1855 - 1882, by inheritance to his heirs, 1882.

1944 - 1953

Lancelot Edward Lowther, 6th Earl of Lonsdale, 1867 - 1953, by inheritance to his heirs, 1944.

1953 -1969

James Hugh William Lowther, 7th earl of Lonsdale, 1922 - 2006 [sold, Sotheby's, London, July 1, 1969, lot 135, to Royal Athena Galleries.]

1969 -1971

Royal Athena Galleries (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1971.

Selected Works from the Ancient Art Collection of the John Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, (May 29 to July 10, 1971)
  • Hetzel Union Gallery (State College), May 29 to July 10, 1971
I, Claudia: Women in Ancient Rome (September 6, 1996 to June 15, 1997)
  • Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven), September 6 to December 1, 1996
  • San Antonio Museum of Art (San Antonio), December 22, 1996 to March 2, 1997
  • North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh), April 6 to June 15, 1997

Maffei, Scipione. Museum veronense, hoc est, Antiquarum inscriptionum atque anaglyphorum collectio : cui Taurinensis adiungitur et Vindobonensis : accedunt monumenta id genus plurima nondum vulgata, et ubicumque collecta. (Verona: Typis Seminarii, 1749), p. 276.4.

Orelli, Johann C. Inscriptionum Latinarum Selectarum Amplissima Collectio Ad Illustrandam Romanae Antiquitatis, Disciplinam Accommodata Ac Magnarum Collectionum Supplementa Complura Emendationesque Exhibens. (Turin: Orellii, Fuesslini et soc., 1828), Vol. 1, p. 490, no. 2796.

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (Berlin: 1862-), vol. VI, pt. 3 (Rome), p. 2062, no. 19190.

Sotheby's, London. Sale cat., July 1, 1969, lot no. 135.

Selected Works from the Ancient Art Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California, exh. cat. (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University College of Arts and Architecture, 1971), no. 18.

Vermeule, Cornelius, and Norman Neuerberg. Catalogue of the Ancient Art in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1973), p. 38, no. 84, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jiří Frel, and Gillian Wilson. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 4th ed. Sandra Morgan, ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978), p. 60.

Frel, Jiří. Antiquities in the J. Paul Getty Museum: A Checklist; Sculpture II: Greek Portraits and Varia (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, November 1979), p. 28, no. V48.

Boucher, Jean-Paul. "L'epitaphe d'Helene." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal vol. 10 (1982), pp. 121-122, fig. 1. Wrongly cited as 78.AA.61.

Koch, Guntram. "Zum Grabrelief der Helena." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 12 (1984), pp. 59-72, fig. 1.

Koch, Guntram, with Karol Wight. Roman Funerary Sculpture: Catalogue of the Collections (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1988), pp. 85-87, no. 30, ill.

Dixon, Suzanne. The Roman Family. (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pl. 21. Without accession no.

Kleiner, Diana E. E., and Susan B. Matheson. I Claudia. Women in Ancient Rome (ex. cat.). Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven CT, Sept. 6-Dec. 1, 1996; San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio TX, Jan. 3-March 9, 1997; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh NC, April 6-June 15, 1997. New Haven: 1996, p. 210, no. 167, ill.

Bodel, John, and Stephen Tracy. Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the USA: A Checklist (New York: American Academy in Rome, 1997), p. 14.

von den Driesch, Angela and Joris Peters. Geschicte der Tiermedizin (Stuttgart, Schattauer, 2003), abb. 1-67.

Slater, Niall W. "Mourning Helena: Emotion and Identification in a Roman Grave Stela (71.AA.271)." Getty Research Journal 2 (2010), pp. 139-146.

Mackinnon, Michael. "Pack Animals, Pets, Pests, and Other Non-Human Beings." In The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Rome. Paul Erdkamp, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 116 - 117, fig. 7.2.

Harden, Alastair. "Animals in Classical Art." In The Oxford Handbook of Animals in Classical Thought and Life. Gordon L. Campbell, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 46.

Booms, Dirk. Latin Inscriptions (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, with The British Museum Press, 2016), pp. 94-95, no. 24.

Education Resources
Education Resources

Education Resource




Low-Relief Sculpture

Lesson in which students refer to a Roman gravestone, create a low-relief gravestone for a pet using foam carving medium, and write a poetic epitaph.

Visual Arts; English–Language Arts


Two-Part Lesson