“Parisiennes of antiquity” became the nickname for the clay statuettes of young women discovered in great numbers in graves of the Boeotian city Tanagra from 1870 onward. The name turned out to be an excellent sales pitch: museums and private collectors around the world bought up these images of elegant women in close-fitting robes and graceful poses. Their poses, gestures, attributes, and often astonishingly well-preserved paint aligned perfectly with the tastes of the nineteenth century. Unsurprisingly, this tremendous demand resulted in imitations and even forgeries appearing on the market. Today the forgeries can be reliably differentiated from the originals by thermoluminescence (TL) dating. This method was applied to the Berlin woman and confirmed her authenticity. She wears a sun hat shaped like a flat top, an ankle-length chiton and a mantle that envelop her whole body and head. In her right hand she holds a fan resembling a large leaf. Her head and body, each formed in a different two-part mould, preserve their rich colouring in blue, red, brown, white, and a rosy ivory, as well as gold.
Named “Tanagrettes” after their most important find spot, these statuettes were also made in other Greek cities. In fact, they were first produced in Athens in the second half of the fourth century BC. The market for these objects was huge: the same workshop that made this lady with her sun hat exported its products from Tanagra (where this workshop was located) to Crete. Another piece from the same find context as the Berlin statuette closely resembles this lady and was bought by the Louvre in 1875, while a third – with an altered stance and position of the arms – went to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Tanagrettes often follow statue types known from large-scale sculpture – in this case, that of the Large Herculaneum Woman.
Unsystematic excavations in Tanagra have hindered our knowledge about how the statuettes might have been used. Whether they were decorative objects for private houses or offerings dedicated in sanctuaries and graves (where they are most often found), their iconography is similar enough to that of goddesses like Aphrodite and the Muses that they clearly reference a sacred sphere. Such a connection is especially potent when the pieces appear in the graves of young women at a marriageable age. The earlier interpretation that held Tanagrettes to be “bourgeois” genre figures of a purely profane nature is a whimsy of the nineteenth century and no longer tenable.