Height: 25.000 cm
Purchased with the aid of the Caryatid Fund
Room 22: Alexander the Great
Terracotta figure of winged Victory
Greek, about 200-150 BC
Probably made at Myrina, western Asia Minor (modern Turkey)
A vivid illusion of rapid movement
The ancient city of Myrina, half-way between the powerful centres of Smyrna and Pergamon (Pergamum), was a place of little or no political importance. However, some of the finest terracotta figures of the late Hellenistic and early Roman world were discovered there. In the early 1880s, French archaeologists excavated around 5,000 tombs at Myrina: the finds included around 2,000 terracottas. The figures are often made up from many parts, skilfully assembled before firing. Their style reflects that of contemporary large-scale sculpture of neighbouring Pergamon.
Flying figures, whether of Victory or Eros the winged god of Love, were among the specialities of Myrina. It is not certain why they were so popular in tombs; a recent theory suggests that they were thought to reflect both the separation of the worlds of the living (where people cannot fly) and the dead (where perhaps some can), and the idea that 'life' after death would be generally pleasant. Most flying figures are equipped with either clay loops or small holes through which cords could be fitted, so that the figures could be suspended in attitudes of flight. A vivid illusion of rapid movement through the air is created by this Victory's outspread wings and by the way a rushing wind seems to force her garment back against her leg.
Myrina figures are more advanced in both technique and style than 'Tanagra' figurines, named after the site in Boeotia, central Greece, where thousands of similar terracottas were excavated in the 1870s.