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Work Parts of a wreath

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

Parts of a wreath

© 2000 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Mathieux Néguine

These flowers and corymbs, gilded or painted in different colors, were originally parts of a shimmering wreath. Made of clay, the wreath imitated a wreath of flowers adorned with precious metal, but was more durable and less costly. While such wreaths were worn for civic or religious ceremonies, this imitation, found in a necropolis at Cyrenaica, would have been for funerary use, in accordance with the attested practices of the Hellenistic period.

Terra-cotta jewelry

These flowers and corymbs were likely elements of a wreath whose supporting structure has not survived. The structure would probably have been of bronze, as is suggested by the remains of the fastenings visible behind the surviving parts. The daisies, violets, and ivy inflorescences are naturalistically modeled in clay. The various colors (violet, pink, red, green) and motifs (lines, dots, etc.) lend verisimilitude while at the same time producing a richly decorative effect, which is further reinforced by the gilding.

A funerary wreath

Terra-cotta, a humble material, was used to make jewelry that when gilded could rival gold jewelry in appearance. But this clay wreath could also confer symbolic immortality on natural elements by rendering them in imperishable form. It could thus have a role in a funerary context.
While in the classical age the wreath of leaves or gold became the symbol of political distinction and of military and civil honors, as well as the prize in athletic competition, it also figured in everyday life, at weddings and banquets, and as an offering to the gods. Wreaths were also used in funerary contexts and bore the same honorific significance. They adorned the deceased or the urn containing the ashes, and might also served as a simple offerings.

A widespread practice

This type of imitation jewelry can be found as far afield as Macedonia, Southern Italy, and Egypt around 330-300 BC, a time when a common artistic language was emerging in the Mediterranean basin. This wreath was found in Cyrenaica (the eastern part of present-day Libya), where the Greeks had been present since the foundation of the city of Cyrene in 631 BC. The necropolises there have yielded several terra-cotta figurines, well represented in the Louvre's collections, especially those assembled by Vattier de Bourville in the mid-19th century.

Bibliography

Besques S., Catalogue raisonné des figurines et reliefs en terre cuite grecs, étrusques et romains, IV-II, RMN, Musée du Louvre, 1992, p.81, pl.47a et b, n D.4424, D.4425.
V.Jeammet, la vie quotidienne en Grèce antique, 2001, p.37.
N. Mathieux, J.Becq, "De l'or à l'argile", La revue du Louvre, 2000,2, p.39-47.

Technical description

  • Parts of a wreath

    4th-3rd centuries BC

    Cyrenaica, Libya

    Cyrenaica, Libya

  • Reddish-brown clay, bronze fastenings, traces of gilt and paint

    Diam. 1.6 cm-2 cm

  • Purchased Vattier de Bourville, 1850

    MN 693, MN 694, MN 695, MN 696, MN 697, MN 698

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Greek terracotta figurines
    Room 37

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