The Menil Collection contains a number of ancient objects that relate to funerary uses or burial contexts. One of those is a modest inscribed gravestone of marble with dark gray veins and rust stains.(1) In a museum context, objects like this gravestone are often displayed alone as objets d’art with little or no provenience (findspot) information. In antiquity, however, they were part of a landscape of objects seen together, including lamps and small vessels placed on the associated tomb. The items found during the excavations of this gravestone are not in the Menil Collection, but the museum does have examples of terracotta lamps and glass vessels dating to the Roman Imperial period (27 BCE–476 CE), during which the gravestone was made. These objects are analogous to those used in a funerary setting, and when seen together, can help visually contextualize the gravestone.
When explored in tandem, objects in the museum’s storerooms with unknown provenience can often substantiate other works with more established histories. Examining the gravestone’s object biography, both singularly and in conversation with the terracotta lamp and glass vessels, provides a deeper understanding of ancient funerary practices. Grouping these pieces together prompts discussions of how they were used in antiquity, found in modern times, and moved across the globe.