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Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure of a woman

 

Height: 26.000 cm

GR 1895.10-29.7 (Terracotta C 7)

Room 22: Alexander the Great

    Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure of a woman

    Greek, 3rd-2nd century BC
    From Corinth, Greece

    Tanagra figures are named after the site in Boeotia, central Greece, where thousands of figures similar to this were unearthed in the early 1870s.Important differences from other figures indicate that this example was made not at Tanagra but in Corinth.

    The deeply textured surface of the hair provides one clue. This texture could not have been achieved purely in a mould, and it is clear that it has been 're-touched' with a knife after moulding, while the clay was still soft. This technique is characteristic of Corinthian work. The appearance of the clay is also very different from that of most 'Tanagra' figures; its fine texture, yellowish tone and smooth, polished surface are again typical of Corinth. Moreover, a fragment of an identical figure was discovered in American excavations at Corinth. None of this, however, offers conclusive proof that this figure was definitely made there. The clays of one site can vary considerably in appearance, the 're-touch' was employed at times elsewhere, and the use of moulds meant that apparently identical figures could be made in widely separate areas of the Hellenistic world.

    Scientific analysis was able to provide a definitive answer. Neutron activation analysis of a clay sample drilled from the back of the figure confirmed that the clay was indeed Corinthian. X-ray diffraction analysis was also used, to identify the principal elements present in the white slip in which the figure was originally coated. One element was cerussite, usually found as a by-product of the metallurgical industry. This might suggest the co-operation of metal-workers and coroplasts (the sculptors of this type of figure - literally ‘modellers of girls') in Hellenistic Corinth.

    M. Hughes, 'Tracing to source' in Science and the past-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1990), pp. 99-116

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    On display: Room 22: Alexander the Great

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    Ancient Greek architecture and its sculpture, £25.00

    Ancient Greek architecture and its sculpture, £25.00