Clay “Melian relief” representing the meeting of Electra and Orestes

The so-called ‘Melian reliefs’ are terracotta plaques representing mythological scenes in outline. Most probably they decorated wooden caskets of funerary use. Most of them have been found in Melos, but they were made in other islands too during the 5th c. BC. Originally, they were painted with bright colours, but today only faint traces are preserved.

The illustrated plaque represents the meeting of Orestes with Electra, as narrated in tragic poetry. Orestes, accompanied by his friend Pylades and a youthful servant, approaches his sister Electra, who is sitting on the tomb of their father, Agamemnon, and mourning. Orestes extends his right hand towards her, but Electra does not notice him. Only later will she recognize him and the two siblings will be reunited. The scene is reproduced in several Melian reliefs, as well as in vases of the 4th c. BC. The theatrical rendering of the scene attests to the influence exercised by theater on the art of the period.

Vlassopoulou Ch. 2006. Cat. no. 59, in Choremi-Spetsieri Α. – Zarkadas Α. (eds), The Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Museum. Ancient Art, Athens, 97.