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Work Ephebus wearing a chlamys seated on a rock

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Éphèbe assis sur un rocher

© 2000 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Becq Juliette

At the end of 1870, thousands of polychrome terra-cotta statuettes were discovered at the site of the ancient city of Tanagra. They went illegally from the necropolis to the antiques market, which soon became feverish. The myth of Tanagra then took shape, centered on draped women, and tended to divert attention from the other figurines found, such as this ephebus purchased in 1874 from the archaeologist Olivier Rayet, who was in Athens during the Tanagra excavations.

A soldier?

The young man wears a black and white striped chlamys, a Macedonian cape worn by travelers and soldiers, over a red and white chiton. His head is protected by a petasos, which, together with the rock on which he is sitting, shows that it is an outdoor scene. In Athens, young Greek men aged 18-20 could be posted as border guards. One is perhaps depicted resting here.

"Little terracotta people" from Athens

Numerous ephebi were found in the Tanagra tombs with the draped women, children, theatrical figures, and weeping women. Production of these figurines started in Athens on the mid-fourth century BC. The type was very soon taken up by workshops in Boeotia and, benefiting from trade networks opened by the then declining trade in red-figure vases, spread to the whole of the Mediterranean area where it flourished for over a century. Tanagra figurines, especially female ones, have been found in tombs, sanctuaries, and houses. They had a symbolic value, replacing that of figures of deities or bearers of offerings and those of vases depicting mythological subjects that were too referential for the increasing number of users after Alexander the Great's conquests.
Although it was not the prototype, an Athenian terra-cotta model found near the Agora and dating from the late fourth century BC may have influenced the production of this type of sculptural, carefully made Tanagra ephebus. Two other replicas of the same prototype are known, the first is in the British Museum in London and the second in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. It is possible that they were placed in the tombs of children or adolescents who had not attained ephebus status or in those of young adults who died during their military service. In the first case, they would have expressed the wishes of the living for the deceased in the afterlife - that is, a successful passage to the status of full citizen.

A workshop identified in spite of clandestine digs

Analyses of clay have shown that the piece was made with the same material as that used for two major Tanagra figurines, the Woman in Blue and the Sophoclean. The similarity of the faces, sculptural aspect and carefully applied pigments also indicate a single source. The workshop is the only one identified today and is referred to as the "Workshop of the Woman in Blue." This recent grouping is all the more important as clandestine digging means that contexts cannot be identified and current research has not yet identified another workshop on the Tanagra site.

Bibliography

Tanagra, mythe et archéologie, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, n 143, p. 209

Technical description

  • Éphèbe assis sur un rocher

    Vers 330 - 200 avant J.-C.

  • H. : 20 cm.

  • Acquisition Rayet, 1874 , 1874

    MNB 589

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Greek terracotta figurines
    Room 36
    Vitrine 23 : Les "Tanagras"

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