Figurine of a Standing Woman Wearing Himation (Cloak) and Chiton (Tunic), Tanagra type, pottery, Hellenistic period, 3rd century BCE
Terracotta Figurines in Anicient Times
December 26, 2009 - November 26, 2011
Curator: Avshalom Zemer
This exhibition will bring joy to the hearts of visitors and researchers alike concerning, as it does, a fascinating and aesthetic subject, about which more is unknown than is known, namely figurines, their history and purpose, from their creation by hand to the use of sophisticated moulds. In fact, the study of figurines is an ongoing source for learning about life in the past - what people wore, their hairstyles, jewellery, rituals and burials in antiquity.
Clay statuettes have interested researchers and collectors for centuries. Their purpose and meaning are among the elements that make them so fascinating, for which reason a whole area of research has received impetus in recent decades, in attempts to solve the principle reasons for their presence throughout the generations.
These clay figurines played an important role in the material world, and in the religious and artistic life of ancient times. For children they were toys, among adults they were tributes to the deities, protecting humankind from the powers of evil. Looking at them gave pleasure, and they accompanied the dead on their final journey to the afterlife when placed inside tombs.
In every era and period, people endowed the figurines with different attributes that have not always been clear to latter-day researchers, but have stimulated their imagination. With knowledge about the era in which a figurine was used, the researcher tries to interpret the significance that might have been attached to it. Since most of these statuettes are in private collections or museums worldwide after being acquired in the antique markets, it is not always possible to determine their provenance. In many cases, this makes their interpretation even more difficult, because in order to understand the purpose of a figurine it is necessary to know where it was found, and in what context - a dwelling? A sacred site? Under a floor? In a rubbish dump or in a favissa? There are so many possible interpretations of their function in so many different contexts. Those uncovered in archaeological digs can sometimes be understood according to the place where they were found. Thus, for example, the typology of figurines that have been shattered deliberately helps us to understand that these were consecrated items, broken with the intention of preventing their use for other purposes.
Clay figurines, in particular those from Greece, have been studied for decades, the research being based on the publication of those preserved in the British Museum and the Louvre. No single research can encompass all aspects of such a vast field. Obviously this also applies to the current work on figurines.
Thus, after a general survey, the study focuses on the specific groups of figurines in the exhibition, and the catalogue includes details of how they were made and an in-depth discussion of their possible purposes.
Provenance of the figurines is also problematic because both the craftsmen and the moulds were moved from place to place, especially during the Hellenistic-Roman period, replicating the forms from the eastern and western Mediterranean lands with which they were familiar, such as those deriving from the Tanagra tradition. However, progress in scientific methods of analysis has made it easier to identify the origins of the figurines and where they were made.
The items presented in the exhibition are chiefly from the rich collection of figurines in the National Maritime Museum. This collection belonged originally to Dr. Alexander Roche, founder and first director of the Museum of Ancient Art in Haifa. Dr. Roche was an amateur archaeologist. During his travels in the Mediterranean, especially in Egypt, Italy, and Greece, he acquired archaeological artifacts from the dealers in antiquities, and his collection formed the basis for the Museum of Ancient Art which he founded in 1948. In 1996 the collection was transferred to the National Maritime Museum and integrated with the latter's collections. Some figurines from the excavations at Shikmona are also exhibited.
We offer our grateful thanks to Prof. Ephraim Stern, Dr. Adi Erlich, Dr. Rivka Gersht and Prof. Jaimee Uhlenbrock whose willingness to help has been of such assistance to us.