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Work The Sophoclean

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

La Sophocléenne

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Anne Chauvet

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Becq Juliette

Although it has lost its colors, the female Sophoclean figurine is one of the finest of the thousands of statuettes discovered in the early 1870s on the site of the ancient city of Tanagra (now Grimadha in Boeotia). A variety of subjects were found, but contemporaries were attracted above all by the draped female figures found in the tombs, and these contributed to the modern reputation of Tanagra. They probably had religious significance, linked with Aphrodite, in antiquity.

A modern name

A key item among the figurines found at Tanagra, the Sophoclean was so named because of similarities in the arrangement of the cloak and the positions of the right hand and left elbow with the presumed portrait of the tragedian Sophocles (circa 496-406 BC). Set up in the Theater of Dionysos in Athens between 336 and 324 BC at the request of the dignitary Lykurgos, the original bronze statue, sometimes attributed to the Attic sculptor Leochares, has now disappeared. Memory of it remains, however, thanks to marble replicas made during the Roman period, the most complete of which is in the Vatican Museum. Although the main folds in the clothing are identical in both works, marked differences can nonetheless be seen. The bent leg determining the balance is not the same; a chiton has been added beneath the himation of the female figure and covers her head like a veil. Finally, the fall of the himation on the left is long and sinuous in the terra-cotta figure, and short and rectilinear in the statue of Sophocles.

The spread of a model

The prototype of the Sophoclean is thus dated circa 330-300 BC, after the statue of Sophocles. The first model, probably made in an Athenian workshop, was used to make molds and copies. Through trade, the pattern was quickly reproduced and modified by all the workshops in the Greek world for over a century. Statuettes of the "Sophoclean" type have been found in tombs and sanctuaries in Crete, Cyprus, Callatis and Amisos on the Black Sea, Lesbos, Myrina and Smyrna in Asia Minor, Alexandria, Cyrenaica, Sicily, and Italy. With its long, sinuous fall of folds, the Sophoclean in the Louvre illustrates one of the two known versions of the type. The other version is more faithful to the statue of Sophocles and has only a short fall of drapery. The sculptural quality of the statuette is remarkable, and it might be one of the first examples made. In any case, it demonstrates the incomparable technical skill of the Tanagra artists, who used the Attic models most successfully. The piece belongs to a group with similar features as regards style and the physico-chemical properties of the clay used for the pieces, which were probably made in the same workshop as the Woman in Blue.

A unique work

Close observation has revealed a polychrome finish that has now disappeared but that made the statuette unique. The base was gray-black, the shoes bright red, the chiton was yellow, and the cloak possibly rendered violet by the juxtaposition of pink and blue. The flesh was pale pink, and the pupils and lips must have been colored. Clandestine digging in the Tanagra necropolis means that we do not know whether it was placed in the tomb of a woman or a child. There must have been a symbolic value linked to marriage and Aphrodite.

Bibliography

Tanagra, mythe et archéologie, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, n 135, pp.199-203.

Technical description

  • Attributed to the "Workshop of the Woman in Blue"

    La Sophocléenne

    Vers 330 - 300 avant J.-C.

  • H. : 29 cm.

  • Acquisition Rayet, 1874

    MNB 585

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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

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