A Girl Playing Astragaloi

(Last Updated On: February 6, 2017)

This is one of the earliest known works of art in which the sole subject is a little girl. There are older works—primarily ancient Egyptian wall art—that include girls as part of a family portrait, as well as some funerary stele for deceased Roman children that may be older, but this is a rare example of Greco-Roman art focusing on the young girl as a subject in her own right (though this piece too may have served as a memorial for a young daughter who had passed away), and that makes it particularly fascinating for lovers of girl art. The ancient Greeks and Romans of course created a lot of sculpture that captured the adult form—male and female—and occasionally young boys, but it seems girls were considered of very little interest to classical aesthetes.

The game she’s playing, astragaloi—sometimes called knucklebones—is one of the oldest known games in existence and provides us with the origin of the modern games of dice and jacks.  Although the game was called knucklebones, it was usually played with the astragalus (ankle or hock) bones of sheep, hence the name.  The girl appears to be somewhere between ten and twelve years old and is probably upper class, perhaps the daughter of a senator.  Though the sculptor of this piece is not known, it has been dated to 150-200 CE and is known to have originated in Rome.  The original version is now housed in the Altes Museum in Berlin.

Artist Unknown – A Girl Playing Astragaloi (ca. 150-200 CE) (1)

Artist Unknown – A Girl Playing Astragaloi (ca. 150-200 CE) (2)

Artist Unknown – A Girl Playing Astragaloi (ca. 150-200 CE) (3)

Artist Unknown – A Girl Playing Astragaloi (ca. 150-200 CE) (4)

Artist Unknown – A Girl Playing Astragaloi (ca. 150-200 CE) (5)

Artist Unknown – A Girl Playing Astragaloi (ca. 150-200 CE) (6)

Now, here’s something really cool.  Sketchfab has a complete three-dimensional scan of this that you can spin around with your cursor and observe from any direction.  If only every other sculpture of interest to us had one of those!

One thought on “A Girl Playing Astragaloi

  1. With the increasing availability of virtual reality headsets and the considerable reduction in the cost of the scanning equipment, more of this material can only become available. The irritation on many of the current viewing platforms is the limited control available, so that looking at and rotating in this case say the head is somewhat difficult. Sketchfab does seem to be improving on this and if one has not found it yet, right click with a mouse allows movement of the ‘origin’ of the rotation … tablets are a little more difficult to use unless you are used to the two finger navigation actions …

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