A lady in blue


Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Dubbed the ‘Parisian women of antiquity’, these clay figurines mostly of young women were found in great numbers in the graves of the Boeotian country town of Tanagra from 1870 and immediately became bestsellers. Museums and private collectors from all over the world purchased the figures of elegant women in tight fitted robes and graceful poses whose stature, gestures, attributes, and often astonishingly well-preserved colouring greatly appealed to the prevailing taste of the late 19th century. It is not surprising given the huge demand that reproductions and even fakes were soon being sold on the market. Thanks to the method of thermoluminescence (TL) analysis, it is now possible to distinguish fakes from originals with great accuracy. With her flat-brimmed hat that looks like a spinning top, a leaf-shaped fan in her right hand and swathed in a cloak (himation) over a full-length chiton covering her whole body, our statuette also underwent TL analysis, which confirmed its authenticity. The head and body of the figurine were made in two separate moulds and richly painted in blue, red, brown, white, ivory pink and gold. These statuettes were named ‘Tanagra women’ after the place where the largest findings were made but they were also produced in other regions of Greece. The origins of the genre can be traced back to Athens and the second half of the fourth century BCE. They were produced in workshops for a large market – even the workshop based in Tanagra that made our ‘woman with sun hat’ exported their products as far as Crete. The appearance of the figurines was often borrowed from familiar types of large-scale sculpture, in this case, the statues known as the large Herculaneum women. The irregular excavations at Tanagra have made it difficult to determine the function of these figures. Whether ornaments to decorate private homes, votive offerings for sanctuaries or, as has been most frequently witnessed, grave goods, the clear reference to the iconography of goddesses such as Aphrodite and the muses suggests that they were intended for ritualistic use, perhaps especially for young women of marriageable age. The early interpretation as ‘bourgeois’ genre figures of a purely secular nature was a theory of the late 19th century and is no longer accepted.

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  • Title: A lady in blue
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -375
  • Location: Tanagra (Boeotia)
  • Physical Dimensions: h34 cm
  • Type: Statuette
  • Medium: Clay, richly painted
  • Inv.-No.: TC 7674
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Martin Maischberger || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz


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