A model for the wedding night

UnknownCa. 490 BC

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

A female figure reclines in a provocative pose, bending her right leg in a way that openly exposes her body and genitals. She wears a stephane on her head and only a red veil across her body – it covers her breasts in a narrow strip and ends at her hips. Her pose and articulated musculature resemble a male reveler’s. Indeed, scholars have largely agreed that a nearly nude woman in this pose can only be a hetaira (courtesan) at a banquet – even though this interpretation cannot account for the stephane and veil.
Some fragments of this same terracotta type have surfaced in recent years. Three were found on the Athenian Acropolis, and another in the Artemis sanctuary in Brauron (Attika). Artemis Brauronia, who also received cult in a sanctuary on the Athenian Acropolis near the Propylaea, was responsible for childrearing – especially the transition from untamed maiden to bride, and the childbirth that marked the end of the bride’s role. Similar clay figures of reclining nude girls (from the late fifth century BC, however) were placed in the graves of children and young girls in the Athenian Kerameikos. This suggests that the figures were given to a deceased child for the afterlife as a gesture of what she would have needed for her wedding, had she lived to see it. Many of the terracottas in these graves represent the young woman as a bride. Literary sources confirm that a girl would dedicate toys and female figurines to Artemis before her wedding, these latter symbolizing the girl herself. In so doing, the girl asked Artemis for a happy and above all productive marriage: for the goal of a successful union was offspring to ensure the continuity of the family line. This evidence seems to support an interpretation of the Berlin figure as a bride reclining on her bridal bed and wearing a bridal crown. Her near-nudity would thus allude to the wedding night and to her ability to bear children.

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  • Title: A model for the wedding night
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Ca. 490 BC
  • Location: Reportedly from Megara
  • Type: Teracotta
  • Medium: Clay
  • Object acquired: Purchased in 1891 from the Hamburger Collection in Ternitz
  • Inv.-No.: TC 8256
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz