Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure


British Museum

British Museum

'Tanagra' figures are named after the site in Boeotia, central Greece, where thousands of figures similar to this were excavated in the early 1870s. Both the design and execution of this example are superb. The face and figure give an impression of warmth and vitality that is lacking in many examples. The drapery is magnificent, carefully contrived to set groups of diagonal lines running off in opposite directions, and to bring out the different textures achieved by stretching, pulling and twisting the fabric. The sculptor has also made the most of the contrasts in texture between drapery and flesh.

The strap-like ornament worn diagonally from the right shoulder is unusual. It is shown with two raised lines of white clay, that may have originally been gilded. A similar pair of lines encircles the base of her neck. She may be wearing some form of body chain, perhaps not unlike that found in the late Roman Hoxne hoard (also in The British Museum).

Though found on the island of Mílos, it seems unlikely that it was made there, as nothing else of such good quality is known to originate there. The style and technique, in particular the slightly sensuous impression created by the slipping drapery, and the 'retouch' evident in the hair, suggest that it might come from Corinth. Neutron Activation Analysis of a sample of the clay was inconclusive, but did not rule out Corinth as a possible origin.

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  • Title: Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure
  • Date Created: -299/-200
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 14.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: 1873,0111.12
  • Production place: Made in Corinth. Made in Asia Minor. Made in Melos
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Melos
  • Period/culture: Hellenistic
  • Material: terracotta
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Merlin, Charles Louis William