The alluring image of the Three Graces, is one that has captured the hearts of artists and onlookers since the time of its creation. Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia were the daughters of Zeus and the sea nymph Euronyme, as well as the handmaidens of Venus and companions of Apollo. Respectively, they represented elegance, mirth, youth and beauty. They were often seen in mythology and art presiding over banquets, dances, and pleasurable social events, and brought joy and goodwill to both gods and mortals.
The origins of the sculpted group lies in the 4th century BC when the sculptor Praxiteles is believed to have modified one of his iconic marble Venuses and replicated her two further times. The theme continued through the Hellenistic period, and was perhaps best popularised in Third-style Pompeiian frescoes, the most famous of which - from the house of T. Dentatus Panthera - is in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Cassani, loc. cit.).
As in all the antique representations, the three sisters are depicted as two (Aglaia and Euphrosyne) facing frontally while the central figure (Thalia) faces away. This would have served, in part, to be mildly erotic while also being a clever and dynamic compositional idea. In this stance they would have been seen as part of a decorative scheme in a villa or sculpture gallery with the aim of promoting joy, fortitude and love.
The fact that most reproductions from the 16th century onwards directly copied ancient prototypes means that relatively few distinguishing features can be seen that indicate a dating or country of origin for any given piece. While this is indeed the case for the relief offered here, it is also unusual in that it does not directly follow the standard ancient prototype; here the figures are compressed into a tighter composition and Aglaia and Euphrosyne have very Italianate facial types. The relief also stands out because of the inscription about the outer edge that translates to: not because they are nude, but because they appear nude to the view.