Statuettes from Tanagra and elsewhere – classical mantelpiece kitsch?

In the 4th century BC, a variety of standing and walking female figurines began to appear in Greek terracotta sculpture. These elegant figurines were created in such a naturalistic manner that they look like ancient people coming to life. The first large series of the genre was discovered in the 1870s in Boeotian Tanagra, and collectors across Europe enthusiastically purchased the pieces which were nicely suited to contemporary bourgeois taste. The statuettes, both originals and the numerous modern imitations (1–2) that were quick to appear on the market following the initial discovery, became popular ornaments in the homes of wealthy collectors.

In antiquity, such figurines were made not only in Boeotia, but in many terracotta workshops throughout the Hellenised world (3–9). They are often recovered from tombs, but could decorate houses as well. In Italy, these statuettes were also produced outside the Greek cities (10–11), primarily intended as votive gifts in sanctuaries (10).

The Tarentine negative mould (12) illustrates the interaction between Greek cities and the neighbouring Italic peoples from the other direction. The maker of the piece had an Oscan name (Platyr), which means that Tarentine workshops also employed Italic craftsmen. The mould was used to make a drinking-horn shaped as a ram’s head; as was customary in antiquity, the neck was thrown separately on a wheel (13). The piece fitted together from two halves (14), however, was probably made at the end of the 19th century, when interest in collecting antiquities was reaching one of its peaks.