Painted terracotta head from a statue of a worshipper
From the Sanctuary of Apollo at Phrangissa, Tamassos, Cyprus c. 600 BC
This head is in true Cypriot style with an Assyrian type beard, wide open eyes, a severe expression and prominent nose. A number of other male heads have Assyrian style beards like this one - hardly surprising as Cyprus was under Assyrian control from about 707-612 BC. The tallest of these large-scale terracotta statues discovered so far measures 260 cm in height and comes from the same site as this head: the Sanctuary of Apollo at Phrangissa, Tamassos on the island of Cyprus.
The first large-scale statues of terracotta in Cypriot style are recorded from the island of Samos in the middle of the seventh century BC. They were first produced in Cyprus in the later seventh century BC. The statues continued to be made into the sixth century, though production had ceased by about 550 BC when sculpture in stone became more popular. The city of Salamis may have led the way in the creation and diffusion of this terracotta art to other parts of the island, but finds from the site at Tamassos are impressive.
All Cypriot large-scale terracotta statues were assembled from several separate pieces made by different techniques. Bodies were thrown on a potter’s wheel; those of larger figures were made in two parts and assembled after firing. Legs were hollow and either handmade or made of clay coils; sometimes legs were wheel-made. Arms were either handmade and solid or wheel-made and hollow. Heads were normally hollow and turned on a wheel or made of coils; the faces were moulded. Accessories such as jewellery and beards were added and facial features formed. The figure was painted as required before being fired.
Black-figured plate, attributed to the painter Psiax
c.520-500 BC Made in Athens, Greece; from Vulci in Etruria (now in Lazio, Italy)
An archer blowing a trumpet
The archer on this plate wears a flapped and pointed cap, patterned trousers and a long-sleeved top. His costume is unusual, and is mostly Scythian in origin, as is the combined bow-case and quiver hanging from his waist. Scythian archers were employed as mercenaries in Athens from the mid-sixth century until 514 BC, when the Persian conquest of Thrace cut lines of communication and recruitment with Scythia. After this, Greek archers start to appear on vase paintings: they retain many elements of Scythian dress, but unlike the generally bearded Scythians, they are shown clean-shaven, as here. The trumpet this figure blows is thesalpinx, blown in battle.
This plate was painted by Psiax, who worked in both the conventional black-figure and the new red-figure techniques. The design, with the single black figure set on a plain clay background, looks like a translation into black-figure of a contemporary red-figure decorative scheme. Comparing it with a red-figure plate by the painter Epiktetos, which also shows a single archer, the opportunities offered by the newer technique are clear. The red-figure archer stands out more boldly against his black background; more varied and intricate patterns can be achieved because the details of his costume are painted rather than incised.
c.300 BC Said to be from Tanagra, possibly from Athens, Greece
This stooped old woman with hunched shoulders holds a large, naked baby firmly in her arms. She wears a voluminous, sleeved chiton (tunic) and most of her hair is contained in a sakkos (a bag-like headdress). Her face, with its raised eyebrows, sagging, wrinkled cheeks and chin, and frame of snail-shell curls is distinctly theatrical. The ‘Old Nurse’ was a popular character in Greek comic drama from the late fifth century BC onwards. While earlier terracotta actor figures are clearly characterised by their padded costumes or obvious masks, it can be difficult to decide whether later examples like this represent an actor or the real-life character on which the comic type was based.
It is uncertain where this figure was made, as similar old nurse figures have been found at both Athens and Tanagra. However, the high quality of the modelling and the appearance of the clay suggest that this example may be Athenian.
Gold diadem of twisted ribbons with a Herakles knot
c.300-280 BC Said to be from the island of Mílos, Aegean Sea
Marking a moment of transition
This unusual and lovely diadem is made up of three long sheets of gold twisted to form ribbons on each side of a Herakles knot. The Herakles knot is found in Greek jewellery from the Mycenaean period, but became particularly popular in the fourth century BC. Its symbolism is closely connected with marriage, and the knot that tied the bride’s garment and was untied by the groom. In many cultures the tying or untying of knots marks moments of transition, whether from maiden to married woman or even from life to death. The untying of knots is also connected with the easing of childbirth.
c. 325-300 BC Found on Mílos, Southern Aegean, Greece
The healing god
This head comes from a colossal statue of the god Asklepios, a god of medicine and healing. It was constructed from three separately worked pieces, of which two survive. The calm expression of the face is set off by a full beard and crown of hair. The lead pegs that would have held a gold wreath are still in place, but the wreath is now lost.
The cult of Asklepios was popular throughout Greece and Asia Minor during the Classical period (480-300 BC) and the Hellenistic period (323-30 BC). Important centres were set up in Athens and at Epidaurus in the Peloponnese. Hippocrates was the founding father of modern scientific medicine and, following his death in 357 BC, a healing sanctuary was established on his native island of Cos. There, Asklepios was represented in what became the canonical manner of the later Hellenistic and Roman periods: bearded, semi-nude and supported on one side by a staff around which a serpent is coiled. This head probably comes from such a statue.