Terracotta figurine of a young woman
Tanagra, Boeotia, 300-250 B.C.
(Alexander the Great exhibition at the Amsterdam Hermitage)
The figure on the left seems of another time and place than her Hellenistic cousins—almost like a 19th century pastiche of the Virgin Mary in a conical Vietnamese hat.
She’s actually part of a specific school of terracotta statuettes, named for the Greek city where they were dug up in the 1870s. More than 8,000 tombs were found at Tanagra, and half contained terracotta figurines. Experts don’t seem to agree on the meaning or purpose of the figurines, but the Hermitage’s description lines up with that of the Met: “Previously, in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., terracotta statuettes had been produced in Athens primarily for religious purposes, or as souvenirs of the theater. In contrast, the entirely new repertoire of Tanagra terracottas was based on an intimate examination of the personal world of mortal women and children.”
According to the Louvre, they were a big hit: “The Paris World Fair of 1878 sparked a veritable craze for Tanagra figures throughout Europe. They became a source of inspiration for many artists, such as Auguste Rodin.”