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TERRACOTTAS Finding the term κεραμικὴ τέχνη too comprehensive, since it included the whole of the potter's art, the Greeks had recourse to certain special names or phrases for works of art modelled or moulded in terracotta: they called the maker of statuettes a κοροπλάστης or κοροπλάθος; ἰπνοπλάθος was one who modelled figures to be fired in a kiln; a relief made from a mould was an ἔκτυπον or ἐκτύπωμα; and, in general, terracottas were ἀγάλματα ὀπτῆς γῆς. The Romans, while using such special words as antefixa and ectypa for reliefs, designated statues and statuettes of terracotta as signa fictilia, and the makers of them fictores or plastae. They had no extensive art of pottery and vase-painting as had the Greeks; and for that reason the term ars fictilis adequately described all their productions in terracotta.

In Greece the oldest application of terracotta as an art independent of the vase-maker was for the roofs and cornices of temples. For this purpose marble is said to have been first introduced by Euergos of Naxos, whom Pausanias (5.10, 3) confounds with his son Byzes. This happened as early as the seventh century B.C., during the reign of Alyattes in Lydia. But that the invention had not at once found acceptance is certain from fragments of cornices found at Olympia and in Sicily, which show that terracotta had continued to be employed in architecture long after this date. A very careful inquiry on this subject, with plates displaying the original patterns and colours of the archaic terracotta cornices, will be found in a memoir by Dörpfeld and others (Die Verwendung von Terrakotten). The designs of these cornices were made from moulds (τύποι), and one mould of a lion's head, for example, would be sufficient for a whole cornice. The uniformity of effect was compensated by brightness of colouring. According to tradition, it was a Corinthian, Butades, who first made terracotta masks for the fronts of the roof-tiles; that is, for the cornices of temples. His date has not been ascertained; his personality has been rendered slightly legendary; but the tradition embodies a fact otherwise known, viz. the important position of Corinth in early times as a centre of work in terracotta, having a powerful influence in Greece on the one hand and in Etruria on the other. Meantime as regards the continued use of terracotta in architecture down to Roman times, we may cite the examples of cornices found in the ruins of Pompeii (H. von Rohden, Die Terracotten von Pompei, 1880) and the numerous panels with reliefs obtained from the neighbourhood of Rome, of which a specimen will be seen under ANTEFIXA representing the making of the Argo. Or, to take an earlier example from Greece itself: when Pausanias (1.3, 1) speaks of ἀγάλματα ὀπτῆς γῆς on the roof of the Stoa Basileios at Athens, he probably refers to such decorations of the cornice as those just mentioned. The Stoa in question stood in the Ceramicos, at Athens, and the agalmata represented Theseus throwing Sciron into the sea and Hemera carrying off Cephalos. Two subjects, unless repeated in the manner just described, could not be regarded as sufficient decoration for a Stoa. Further, it may be inferred that the two groups were in relief, from the fact that the violent action of the figures would not suit sculpture in the round in a material so weak as terracotta. Hemera carrying off Cephalos occurs in a fine archaic relief in the British Museum found at Camiros in Rhodes, and evidently made to be attached as an ornament to some background. For similar reliefs found in Athens, and treated in the same severe but delicate style, see Schöne, Griechische Reliefs, pll. 30-35. They may have been made to be attached to the walls of tombs, or for the internal decoration of houses, and would come within the term τυποι. The Ceramicos at Athens was so named, according to Pliny (Plin. Nat. 35.155), from its being there that Chalcosthenes had his workshop and made rude figures (cruda opera) of clay. When marble finally replaced terracotta for architectural purposes, the designs and processes of colouring which had been evolved in the decoration of the clay were transferred without change to the new material.

In Etruria and among the early Romans the application of terracotta to architecture appears to have been more extensive than in Greece. Pliny says (H. N. 35.157), “elaboratam hanc artel Italiae et maxume Etruriae;” and these words follow upon a statement quoted from Varro that all the artistic decorations of temples were of Etruscan workmanship, previous to the time when Damophilos and Gorgasos adorned with sculpture in terracotta and with paintings the temple of Ceres in Rome. Of terracotta was the statue of Jupiter in his temple on the Capitol which Tarquinius Priscus (or perhaps Superbus) colmmissioned the artist Turrianus to make (Pliny, loc. cit.). On high festivals the face of this statue was painted with minium. On the highest point of the front pediment of this temple stood a terracotta quadriga (κατὰ κορυφὴν ἐπιστῆσαι, says Plutarch, Publicol. 13, but Pliny, loc. cit., is less explicit: “fictiles in fastigio templi ejus quadrigas” ). This quadriga had been removed forcibly by Tarquin from Veil, where it had been held sacred and inviolable from a circumstance attending the making of it, as related [p. 2.795]by Plutarch in the passage just cited. When put into the kiln to be baked, the quadriga, instead of shrinking in size as usual from the drying--up of the moisture in the clay, expanded so much that the roof and sides of the kiln had to be removed to get it out. As regards this technical effect, it may be remarked that the Assyrian tablets with cuneiform inscriptions frequently have a number of small: holes punctured in the clay to allow the escape of moisture during the process of baking. In a work of art, however, especially a large group modelled in the round, the only safeguard against its being destroyed by the shrinking of the clay in the kiln lay in its being hollow and thin, so that whatever moisture was in the clay could readily escape. How difficult a task it was to obtain success under such circumstances may be seen in the large sarcophagus from Caere (Cervetri) now in the Etruscan saloon in the British Museum (engraved, Dennis, Etruria, 2nd edit. i. p. 227, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th edit., s. v. Etruria, vol. viii. pl. 8). In this case the clay seems to have been largely mixed with pounded brick, and to have acquired thereby great tenacity. But notwithstanding this precaution, and the fact that the two figures reclining on the lid of the sarcophagus are hollow even to the toes, it will be seen in several places that the shrinkage has seriously damaged the artistic effect. The date of the sarcophagus in question can hardly be later than B.C. 550, and it may thus perhaps fairly be taken as an illustration of the style of art presented by those statues in terracotta, which Pliny says (H. N. 35.157) the early Romans were not ashamed to worship: such for example as the Hercules he mentions, the quadriga and the Jupiter already referred to. Probably also the pediments of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, as of other temples, were occupied with statues of terracotta (Vitruvius, 3.3, 5, “ornantque signis fictilibus aut aereis inauratis earum fastigia Tuscanico more.” Cicero, de Divinat. 1.10, 16, “Cum Summanus in fastigio Jovis O. M. qui turn erat fictilis a caelo ictus esset,” &c.). What appears to be the front of this Temple of Jupiter, with the quadriga on its apex, and with Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, and other deities in the pediment, is represented on a bas-relief of the time of Marcus Aurelius (engraved, Mon. dell' Inst. Arch. v. pl. 36). Cato complained (Livy, 34.4, 4) that these oldfashioned terracotta decorations of temples were despised in his time. The high antiquity of this branch of art may be seen from the fact stated by Pliny (Plin. Nat. 35.159), that among the trade guilds instituted by Numa was one of workers in clay.

While surpassing the Greeks in the production of large groups in terracotta, the Etruscans failed in their statuettes. We may take as examples two, now in the British Museum, that were found in the Polledrara tomb near Vulci, with objects reaching back to at least B.C. 600, if not half a century earlier. These terracottas (one of which is engraved in Micali, Monumenti Inediti, pl. 4, fig. 5), though rude in design, are of a fine clay, and present a combination of colour and gilding from which it could be supposed that in the phrase above quoted from Vitruvius--“signis fictilibus aut aereis inauratis” --this last word may have applied to the terracottas (fictilibus) as well as to the bronzes (aereis). Terracotta figures combined with vases are of pretty frequent occurrence in the black ware of Chiusi (Clusium), and, like this ware itself, they appear to be imitated from designs in bronze or other metal. It is reasonable to conclude so from the fact that the details on the surface of them are marked by hatched lines, as in metal working. The modelling is always rude, and a considerable antiquity may be claimed for these terracottas; no less than for a small but more freely-modelled vase, in the form of a lion, from Veii, and inscribed in Etruscan characters, Felthur Hathisnas, now in the British Museum (Fabretti, C. I. I. No. 2561).

Etruscan urns of terracotta are for the most part of a late date, and deal with popular Greek myths and legends, or parting scenes, according to designs evidently invented by Greek artists. The numerous portraits in this material are also as a rule late. But though very deficient in execution, they are mostly marked by great force in the conception, and the broad forms by which it is conveyed. It has been supposed that the Etruscans had obtained this art, or at least a strong impetus to the practice of it, from the artists (fictores) Eucheir, Eugrammos, and Diopos, who, to escape the tyranny of Cypselos in Corinth, accompanied Demaratus, the father of Tarquin, to Etruria (Brunn, Griech. Künstler, i. p. 529). It is known that Corinth was one of the earliest seats of the fictile art in Greece, and, considering the inexhaustible quantities of fine clay lying close at hand still, it is not strange that this art had flourished there. Etruria, however, surpassed her instructress, at least in the magnitude of her works. It was at Corinth that the idea of a pediment for a temple, doubtless filled with figures in terracotta, was invented (Pindar, Pind. O. 13.21); and it was Butades of Corinth who, as has already been said, was believed to have been the first to introduce into the architectural decoration of temples those antefixal ornaments which have been found at Olympia and in Etruria.

By far the most numerous class of Greek terracottas consists of statuettes, and the great majority of them represent more or less youthful female figures, whence arose the name of κοροπλάθος or κοροπλάστης, applied to the makers of them. A female figure draped to the ground naturally presented a broad base on which it could stand securely, as compared with an undraped figure with easily-broken ankles to support it. It was not strange, therefore, that the latter--and the same applies to male figures--should have been generally avoided, unless where a convenient attitude, such as sitting on a rock, could be found. Again, whether it was from the unsuitability of the material to the prevalent conceptions of gods and heroes that figures of these latter were not reproduced as terracotta statuettes, the fact remains that deities and heroes are of extremely rare occurrence. Yet it is clear that figures of deities were used for domestic worship, as in the case of a small clay figure of Hephaestos mentioned by the Scholiast of Aristophanes (Aristoph. Birds 436) as seated at the hearth in the character of Ephoros of the fire. Among other deities Aphrodite, Artemis, Eros, and Hermes may be said to have been fairly [p. 2.796]identified. Scenes from daily occupations are frequent; so also are dolls and playthings, more or less comic, such as the graves round Corinth still yield in numbers. A fair proportion of the statuettes represent what seems to be an ideal of a beautiful young woman, much as in the China ware of our own time.

Except the earliest examples, which are rudely modelled with the hand, these statuettes are made from clay moulds, many specimens of which still exist (see the collection in the Terracotta Room of the British Museum). More correctly, only the front of the figure is made from the mould, the back of it being as a rule merely a plain piece of clay formed by the hand [see ECTYPUS]. Or when the design is carried round the back, as in forming the head for example, it appears to have been usually executed by the hand. Even in the beautiful group of Astragaligusae in the British Museum (Gaz. Arch. 1876, p. 97), the back of which, contrary to what is customary in terracottas, is not without considerable attractions, the modelling seems to have been completed in this manner. It was necessary that there should be no undercutting in the mould which would obstruct the removing of the figure from it; for the ancients do not appear to have known the modern process of making piece-moulds. Or if any injury were done in the removing, it would be necessary to restore it afterwards with the hand, just as it was necessary to carry out afterwards in this way whatever part of the design could not be expressed in the mould. The scope thus allowed for variety in the finishing of the figures enabled the coroplastes to give a different appearance to figures from the same mould, in which also he was greatly aided by freedom in the use of bright colours (τῶν δὲ κοροπλάθων ἴδιον τὸ τὰ χολοβαφῆ βάπτειν, Pollux, Onom. 7.163). For example, there are two groups from the same mould, the one found in the Crimea and now in St. Petersburg (Compte-rendu, 1873, pl. 1, fig. 2), the other found at Naucratis and now in the British Museum (Naucratis, Pt. ii. pl. 16, fig. 18), which yet express differently this or that feature of the mould, and show also what changes could be effected by colour. To produce a mould, the first step was to model the desired figure in clay or in wax; if the former material, a core of wood was used, which was called κάναβος (Pollux, Onom. 7.164, and 10.189); if in wax, the model was next covered with clay and subjected to fire, upon which the wax melted away, leaving its impression on the clay covering, which then became a mould. This clay covering is called ἡμίλιγδος in Pollux (Onom. 10.190), and from his description it would appear that the clay was pierced with a number of small holes for the escape of the vapours rising from the melting wax, whence the ἡμίλιγδος was compared to a shield pierced by many darts. In most cases the colours are simply painted on the terracotta and easily destroyed, yet instances are not uncommon in which the whole figure is covered with a glaze which gives it the appearance of an enamelled surface. In the best period of this glazed ware the colour is a uniform white. Somewhat later we find white, brown, and green, as in the unique vase from Tanagra, in the British Museum, in the form of a goose, on which rides Eros. Apparently this is a revival of a process which may be seen in certain archaic vases from Camiros, either made or influenced by Phoenician processes. In late Greek and Roman times there is the green glazed ware, consisting chiefly of vases with designs in relief. Among the terracottas found at Pompeii may be mentioned a group painted in bright and varied colours which have been converted by fire into a glaze. This is the interesting group representing Pero giving her breast to her famished father Cimon, and commonly known as the Pietà Romana. This group is further interesting for comparison with the existing ancient paintings of the same subject (Rhoden, Terracotten von Pompeii, pl. 47: cf. pp. 58, 59).

There is no class of antiquities with so little of general interest in the subjects they represent as these terracotta statuettes, unless perhaps the Athenian lecythi, which are known to have been made expressly for tombs; and from this comparison, together with the fact of their being mostly found in tombs, it is a reasonable conjecture that they were in many cases made for funeral purposes. Others, doubtless, like the figure of Hephaestos already mentioned, were destined for domestic use. There is still a belief that the female figures among them often represent Demeter or Persephone, though the symbols by which these deities are commonly recognised are more or less wanting. But undoubtedly there are many statuettes which, though not to be positively identified as belonging to the lower world, yet clearly convey an impression of their having been destined for sepulchral ends. Such, for example, are the figure of a youth holding a cock at his side, or female figures holding an egg or a pomegranate. So also the masks with which the tombs of Camiros have enriched the British Museum. For there is little doubt but that the original purpose in making masks of this kind was to cover with them the faces of the dead. Nor would this exclude the giving of others of less than life-size as tributes to the dead. Grotesque figures do not seem appropriate for tombs; yet there they are in not inconsiderable numbers.

Terracotta from Gela. (British Museum.)

It has been found strange that so prolific a profession as that of the coroplastes should not have frequently reproduced the celebrated statues of the Greek masters. Among the known instances may be cited the terracotta here figured as a copy probably from the Hermes Criophoros, by the sculptor Calamis; or again, there is the very fine statuette of a Diadumenus (Hellen. Journal, vi. p. 243, pl. 61), which reproduces the canon of Polycletus as modified afterwards by Lysippus. [p. 2.797]An attempt has also been made to prove that the not very uncommon group of one female figure carrying another on her back is a copy from a group of Demeter carrying Persephone, by Praxiteles, known generally as the Catagusa. But in the first place there are doubts as to the meaning of κατάγουσα in this instance, a German archaeologist having interpreted it as “spinning” (Loeschke, Arch. Zeitung, 1880, p. 102). While there is no good reason for this interpretation, the fact remains that there is no authority for assuming Praxiteles to have represented Demeter and Persephone in this attitude, even if he did represent the one carrying or conducting the other. It is the attitude of play, as in the accompanying group of Eros on the shoulders of a maiden, and answers to the game in daily life called the Hippas. These groups are published, and the theory of a Praxitelean origin of them strongly advocated, by M. Rayet, in his Monuments de l'Art Antique.

Terracotta from Centorbi in Sicily. (British Museum.)

Judged according to artistic qualities, the oldest Greek statuettes are well represented in the British Museum by a series found in tombs at Camiros, in which, while the head is modelled with some skill and care, the body is only a rudimentary trunk. Colour is sparingly employed. Equally rude is a smaller series from Tegea, in Arcadia, but they are more ambitious in regard to the body, and less so in regard to the head. No colour is applied to them. The terracotta is coarse, and of a dark red colour. A slight advance, but not enough to constitute a new period, will be seen in others from Camiros, where there is an attempt to indicate the limbs in due proportion to the head, where colours are more freely used and the quality of the clay finer. These are mostly female figures seated, with their hands on their knees, and their arms not detached from the mass of the body. It may be regarded as the beginning of a new period, when the drapery comes to be indicated by modelling in the clay, and some action or attribute is conveyed: for example, a female figure holding a dove, as in specimens from Camiros; a female figure, perhaps a priestess, holding a pig for sacrifice, as in specimens from Sardinia; or grotesque figures from Camiros. Occasionally strong contrasts of colours--red and blue--are employed, generally as a mere coating, but sometimes to pick out details of dress not indicated in the modelling. This period did not close till it had attained what may be considered the ideal and best stage of archaic terracottas, as represented by numerous female figures, tall, severe in attitude and aspect, with drapery falling in simple but stately lines, the left hand holding the skirt and the right raised to the breast. Of this stage are the masks already spoken of from Camiros, vases modelled in the form of Sirens, or to imitate the head of Heracles, of Achelöos, apes and other animals: so also the archaic reliefs, emblemata, in the British Museum, representing (1) Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus slaying the Chimaera, from Melos; (2) Perseus, also mounted on Pegasus, which apparently has just sprung from the decapitated body of Medusa, from Melos; (3) group described as Sappho and Alcaeus, from Melos (Welcker, Alte Denkmäler, ii. pl. 12, fig. 20). Of the same style and period are the groups of Peleus carrying off Thetis, and Eos carrying off Cephalos, from Camiros. Usually the Melos clay is of a pale colour, better seen in the statuettes than in the reliefs of this period. The Camiros clay is always a faint red, with innumerable fine points in it sparkling like mica. The age of Pheidias, or nearly so, is represented by a few terracottas from Athens. For example,

Bellerophon and the Chimaera. (From the terracotta in the British Museum.)

three figures, possibly of Leda holding a swan. The one is a massive, noble figure, standing [p. 2.798]nearly nude; in the other two Leda has one foot raised on a rock, and throws up an end of

Perseus and Medusa. (From a terracotta in the British Museum.)

her drapery, as if she were about to spring on the rock: but here, though the two figures are at first sight the same, the action of the arms is in fact reversed, and an extensive yet subtle variety introduced. The one figure is glazed over in a white colour; the other is merely painted white. These three Ledas are in the British Museum, as are also several other female figures of this period from Athens, with white glazed surfaces, and a relief in which one Maenad plays on a tympanon while another dances, the scene being before a temple, indicated by an altar and a column.

From the next period of art, as known from the sculptures of the Mausoleum, there are such terracottas as the female figure found by Sir C. T. Newton at Cnidos, closely corresponding in action and drapery with the statue of Artemisia from the Mausoleum, the fragmentary figures from the ruins of that building, and some few examples from other localities, as Athens and Corinth. A slight advance towards florid treatment of drapery and other details may be seen in the terracottas found near Larnaca, in Cyprus, consisting frequently of female figures with high richly-ornamented crowns (see the collection in the British Museum; and Heuzey, Terres cuites du Louvre, pl. 15). The climax of this stage is reached in the ordinary type of the terracottas which have been found in such great numbers in the tombs at Tanagra, in Boeotia, since 1873, when this cemetery was first discovered. Some of the tombs are of an archaic character, but the majority are of the age here in question (the 3rd cent. B.C.), and contained statuettes of terracotta, the most beautiful of which were found enclosed in coarse clay vases. They represent usually subjects from daily occupation, or youthful ideal figures, interesting from their costume, and especially for the hat they sometimes wear, suggesting the reference to Sophocles, Oed. Col. 314, κρατὶ δ᾽ἡλιοστερὴς κυνῆ πρόσωπα Θεσσαλίς νιν ἀμπέχει. The attraction exercised by these figures from Tanagra maybe judged from the numbers of them that have been engraved and published in almost every form, from the costly volume of coloured designs issued by the German Archäologisches Institut, under the editorship of Prof. Kekulé (Stuttgart, 1878), to the slight outlines of the Gazette des beaux Arts (11.1875, pp. 297 and 551, and 12.1875, p. 56), and other publications enumerated in, Rayet's Monuments de l'Art Antique. Next in rank to Tanagra for the number of interesting terracottas which it has yielded is Myrina, in Asia Minor, where the French carried on extensive excavations in 1880-82. The results appear in the work of MM. Pottier and Reinach, La Nécropole de Myrina, 1887 (see also Froehner, Terres cuites d'Asie Mineure, 1881), with numerous plates, and containing, among other interesting matter, a detailed account of the processes employed in producing the statuettes: e. g. the quality of the clay, with its differences of colour, due partly to differences of firing and partly to materials employed in the preparation; the moulds, of which a large number were obtained, many of them bearing the names of the artists who made them; and the various methods of colouring the statuettes. In these respects the Myrina terracottas do not differ from those of Tanagra. But in an artistic sense they are readily distinguishable by a degree of coarseness and voluptuousness which is wanting at Tanagra, by a greater love of nude forms, and by a strong desire for groups in which accuracy is sacrificed to picturesque effect. At present it is difficult to say from what source the coroplastae, whether at Myrina or at Tanagra, derived their inspiration. In some instances we find types of figures or of attitudes that may very well have been derived from the painted Greek vases of the latest period--towards the end of the 4th cent. B.C. But a more accurate comparison may be found in some of the mural paintings that have survived in Rome and Pompeii, which, if not actually executed in the Hellenistic period,

Terracotta statue found at Pompeii.

are always believed to be derived from originals of that age. We may assume that the coroplastae by the nature of their profession appealed only to a particular class of sentiments, which required for their gratification nothing more than some easily recognised type of beauty, or some grotesque figure drawn from daily life. Possibly, therefore, much that we do not now understand in the work of the coroplastae would be accounted for if we had any records of the public demands which they worked to supply. So far at least we may agree that these demands had been mostly of a local character, from the fact that the figures of Tanagra, of Myrina, of Cyrene, of Sicily, are distinguishable [p. 2.799]as no other class of Greek antiquities, except the Athenian lecythi. The terracottas from the Cyrenaïca are mostly of a late period, and only rarely possessed of beauty or interest. Late also are those from Centuripa (Centorbi), in Sicily, elongated in figure, sometimes coarsely modelled (Kekulé, Terracotten von Sicilien). Of coarse clay and with a preference for pink and white colouring, is the still later and numerous class from Canosa, in Italy, intended mostly to be attached to large ornamental vases. Of life-size terracottas only a small number exist, and these are generally of a late period, such as the statue of an actor from Pompeii figured above.


hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Aristophanes, Birds, 436
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.3
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 3.3
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 3.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 4
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