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Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure of a woman wearing a sunhat


Height: 25.500 cm

GR 1875.10-12.9 (Terracotta C 263)

Room 22: Alexander the Great

    Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure of a woman wearing a sunhat

    Greek, 3rd century BC
    From Tanagra, Boeotia, Greece

    An example of the coroplast's art

    'Tanagras' are named after the site in Boeotia, central Greece, where thousands of figures similar to this were unearthed in the early 1870s. Figures of men, children and comic actors were also found at Tanagra, but standing female figures are the most numerous. The chief appeal of Tanagra figures lies in their casual pose and their clothes, which usually consist of a thinner undergarment, the chiton, worn beneath a thicker cloak or himation. These garments were originally brightly coloured. Even where little or no colour survives, as with this example, the way the cloth is pulled and twisted both makes pleasing patterns and emphasizes the form of figure beneath.

    Is she a goddess or an ordinary woman? What was the figure made for? It seems likely that the meaning of a figure varied according to its context. Most Tanagra figures have been found in graves, where they may have been laid either as offerings to the gods of the underworld, or to provide comfort to the dead. However, the same figures set up in a sanctuary could act as surrogate worshippers for the people who dedicated them, remaining in place long after the dedicators had left.

    How was she made? Most Tanagra figures are made from two principal moulds, back and front, with the head made in one or two more moulds and attached by means of a long tang inserted through the upper part of the shoulders. In this case the sunhat and the plaque base were also made separately and attached before firing. The back of some figures is as detailed as the front, but in this instance it is scarcely modelled at all. A square vent has been cut in the back, either to allow air to escape in firing, or to enable the coroplast (the sculptor of this type of figurine - literally 'modeller of girls') to insert fingers to join the front, back and head. After firing, the figure was coated in a white slip, often a solution of chalk or white clay, and then the colours were added on top.


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    On display: Room 22: Alexander the Great

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