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Work Head with curly hair

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Head of a woman

© 2000 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Benoit Nicolas

Found in a marine favissa off the coast of Tyre, this terra-cotta head is interesting for two reasons: the modeling, especially the complex hairstyle, is of excellent quality; and its large size - unusual for a Phoenician figurine - suggests that it may belong to a still little-known set of Phoenician terra-cotta votive statues, similar in size to contemporary Cypriot figures, which spread throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.

A crowned head

As an analysis of the many concretions on its surface shows, this terra-cotta head, which has no known parallel, comes from a marine favissa off the coast of Tyre, probably the wreck of a ship sailing to or from Cyprus. By comparison with Cypriot stone sculpture, it can be dated to the mid-5th century BC. It represents a beardless young man, with full boyish features, round cheeks, and a smiling mouth; it is covered with a smooth brown slip. The man's almond-shaped eyes under strongly drawn brows are bordered by bulging lids, as on the finest heads from Cyprus. The hair has been elaborately portrayed: the curls made of spirals of clay applied to the surface are in strong relief; two rows surround the face and five others cover the top of the skull in a concentric pattern. The crown is made of leaves roughly cut out of a sheet of clay. These leaves are hard to identify: they may be laurel or myrtle, referring to the cult of Apollo and Aphrodite respectively. Two superimposed disks make up the central flower. The holes pierced in the ear lobes would have held rings, probably made of precious metal. The thick neck is carefully finished at the base, which proves that the work is complete. The hypothesis that the head was joined to a separately modeled body, with the join hidden under the neckline of the tunic, seems highly likely: it would then have belonged to a standing figure measuring about 80 cm.

Large Phoenician figures

The large size of this figure, unusual for Phoenician coroplasty, invites comparison with a set of terra-cotta figures of similar dimensions: the biggest known to date in the Phoenician field is apparently a figure with a high conical headdress, measuring 1.26 m, brandishing a weapon in his left arm in an attitude known as the "smiting god." It has concretions of the same kind as this head. A standing orant, 92 cm tall and dressed in a short tunic, has been seen on the art market. The style of the face and the pottery technique make it similar to another orant, about 80 cm tall, that entered the Louvre at the same time as the curly-haired head and three terra-cotta figures. An amphora bearer from the same area has been added to this group. These large figurines illustrate a still little-known aspect of Phoenician coroplasty, which has parallels in Cypriot production and may be compared with the terra-cotta anthropoid sarcophagi recently brought to light in the Amrit region and now in the Tartous Museum. The latter, like the fine head in the Louvre, show a similar facial type and the same taste for a very decorative treatment of the hair. Our head, together with the group it belongs to, thus gives a glimpse of the movement of votive statues in the Mediterranean area, probably intended for foreign shrines.


Catalogue vente Drouot , Étude Boisgirard, 12-10-1987, n 168.
Exposition Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1989 (sans catalogue).
Gubel E., 1992, p.172, fig.10.

Technical description

  • Head of a woman

    5th century BC

    Southern Lebanon

  • Moulded and hand-modelled terracotta

    H. 15 cm; W. 11 cm; D. 11 cm

  • Acquired in 1989 , 1989

    AO 29577

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant: the Phoenician kingdoms, 8th–2nd century BC
    Room 312
    Display case 1

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