Figurine of a dancer/captive

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Greek, Boeotian
About 330–300 BCE
Terracotta, mold-cast
13.6 cm
Yale University Art Gallery: Gift of Ambassador and Mrs. William Witman II, B.A. 1935; 1993.46.49

Ancient Greek terracotta figurines are one of the most common forms of religious artifacts because they were cheap and easy to produce. This figure is mold-made – a simple process of applying the clay or plaster to a dried prototype. This figure was produced at the beginning of the Hellenistic Period when terracotta figurines began to take on a decorative function whereas previously, the types of figurines were primarily produced for votive use. These often included subjects such as dancers and doll-like statues like this one.

Whether this woman represents a dancer bending over an instrument, or perhaps a captive about to be sacrificed at an altar is unclear. Her chiton (robe) is slipping off her shoulder. Her hands are held above her head. Usually war captives would be men, except in the case of Amazons.  She also wears a Phrygian cap and boots which would indicate an Amazon or other barbarian. Her bare breast supports the idea of her as an Amazon, but her skirt is longer than that of a typical Amazon. Whatever the iconographic content, the fact that this object is mold-made indicates some level of mass-production. Therefore, this figure probably held meaning for a number of Boeotians.

This label was prepared by intern Frances Middleton, class of 2012.

Additional Label

In ancient Greece, terracotta figurines functioned primarily as votive offerings in graves and sanctuaries. The development of mold-casting techniques, in which wet clay was pressed into molds, made terracotta figurines both cheap and easy to produce. During the Hellenistic period (about 323–146 BCE), these figurines also began to take on decorative functions and often portrayed a variety of subjects, from images of elaborately draped women to somewhat crude representations of actors in comedies.

This particular terracotta figurine displays a rather puzzling image of a half-clothed female figure bending over a rectangular object. Her hands are clamped over her head and her left knee touches the ground while her right leg extends forward. It is unclear whether the figure possibly represents a dancer in motion or a captive before an altar. Dancer figurines of the Hellenistic period usually portrayed veiled females with drapery billowing off to the side. However, the figure’s short chiton and exposed breast also recall the dress of a mythical female warrior called an Amazon. The figure’s long hair and Phrygian cap further suggest that she represents a barbarian or foreigner.

This label was prepared by Mellon Special Projects intern Katelyn Burgess, class of 2013.

On view at entrance to the museum

 Additional views (2)

Side view

Rear view


Related exhibitions

Beyond Aphrodite: Interpreting Portrayals of “Real” Women in Ancient Greece

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