Work Seated man writing
Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)
© 2002 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski
Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)
This seated man writing is one of the earliest Greek representations of writing, a subject rarely depicted. Genre subjects like this one are characteristic of the art produced in Boeotia between 525 and 475 BC, presenting everyday activities such as baking or hairdressing. They were discovered in tombs, where they had evidently been placed so that the deceased would be accompanied by colorful representations of the living.
A sense of observation
The small figure is depicted absorbed in his writing. In his right hand he is holding the stylus, the flattened end of which was used for smoothing the wax covering the diptych, which is placed flat in his other hand. This made it possible to correct a text several times. On one of the tablets are inscribed some Greek letters whose meaning remains unclear. Even so, these reinforce the artist's naturalistic approach to the subject. This is one of many Boeotian genre subjects, which are characterized by their naive style and crude technique. It combines modeling for the body and molding for the face, with matte colors that were applied after firing.
Writing in a tomb?
In around 525 BC, while the various regions of Greece were producing statuettes of divinities, Boeotians were making a specialty of these picturesque scenes with one or several figures shown at work or playing music. This naturalistic trend would be eclipsed by Classical sculpture from around 475 BC. Discovered in a funerary context, these portrayals of manual and intellectual activities suggest a belief in an afterlife. They may well show the deceased himself, or a figure from his entourage, working at his trade.
One of the earliest representations of writing in Greece
In ancient Greece, representations of people writing were rare. The Acropolis Museum in Athens has three statues of seated men, traditionally referred to as "scribes". At one time, historians thought these dedications from the late 6th century BC were official agents of the city, like treasurers, Athenian census officers, or, more recently, secretaries responsible for decrees and laws. It is fairly unlikely that this modest terracotta statuette represents one of these senior civil servants. It is closer to the representation of a writing teacher on an Attic red-figure bowl in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. On that vase, which dates from between 500 and 480 BC, Douris has depicted one or several young boys learning music, reading, and writing with different teachers. Along with the teaching of sport (depicted inside the bowl), these activities completed a boy's education and prepared him for becoming a good citizen. What is depicted here is a particular aspect of Athenian society, in the wake of the reforms of Cleisthenes, which introduced democracy and fostered the widespread learning of reading and writing. However, there is nothing to confirm that the Boeotian statuette in the Louvre actually depicts a teacher. He could simply be a public writer taking down the first draft of a letter to be recopied and polished up on a more manageable medium, such as paper made from reeds.
C. 525-475 BC.
H. 10.7 cm; L. 7.5 cm; W. 4.5 cm
Acquired in 1896 , 1896
Greek terracotta figurines
Display case 21: 6th-century BC Boeotian "genre" subjects
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