'Pre-Tanagra' figurine with a fascinating history.
Ex Prof Max Muller collection gift from Heinrich
Old label stuck inside 'On loan from W G Max Muller Esq.
1916.' (Max Muller died 28 October 1900 and the W G Max Muller referred to by
the label is Wilhelm, his son who became an Egyptologist and lived in the
States.) The label refers to the loan for exhibition to the Ashmolean Museum in
Oxford in 1916.
Heinrich Schliemann was a German businessman and a
pioneer in the field of archaeology although his methods would be somewhat
frowned upon nowadays! He was the excavator of Hisarlik, now presumed to
be the site of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns.
Friedrich Max Müller, generally known as Max Müller, was a friend of his, a
philologist and Orientalist, who lived and studied in Britain for most of his
I acquired this piece very many years ago with this scrap
of obviously very old paper on which has been typed what appears
to be in part a summary of correspondence between Schliemann and Max
Only many years later was I able to confirm that the
location and date references for the letters mentioned there are correct.
See : Schliemann's Letters to Max Müller in Oxford by E.
Meyer The Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 82 (1962), pp. 75-105
See here: https://tinyurl.com/ya3deou3
'Tanagras' are named after the site (town) in Boeotia,
central Greece, where thousands of similar figures were unearthed in the early
1870s. The main appeal of Tanagra figures is in their fine artistic quality.
The ladies are normally shown in casual poses and their clothes are typically
pulled and twisted tightly which emphasizes the form of the figure beneath.
Their dress seems to suggest that they were high status.
The typical downcast gaze and closed composition of the
clothing is seen also in Greek vase painting where these features point to the
modesty of a respectable woman. This example illustrates this well.
Nice style, very much anticipating the mature Tanagra
style, especially the head (which retains much of the original paint) and
which conveys very well the typical 'modesty' of the female figurines. Often
the heads and arms if shown projecting within the clothing were made in
separate moulds and attached to the statuette before firing . The head here has
been re-fixed as indeed the summary of the letter from Schliemann in Athens
to Max Muller of December 17th 1876 mentions - '…off the head in packing but
easily get it mended'. That doesn’t prove that it was definitely this figurine
of course as heads often came off. Repairs at the back. Label stuck
inside at the bottom.
This figurine is more properly described as a Pre-Tanagra
type; as indeed it was in the Bonham’s auction catalogue. The true
Tanagras have a separate base to which the figurine is attached: here, as with
many types of mould made figurine, there is no true base and the appearance of
a base at the front is conveyed in the front part of the mould used to make it.
Also, the true 'Tanagra type' has a two part mould which details the clothing
on the back: here the back is devoid of such detail.
The origin of the 'Tanagra' type has been much debated.
Although thousands of them were certainly made at Tanagra itself, most scholars
believe that they were first made at Athens. From there the idea spread first
to Tanagra, and from there, via exports of both figurines and moulds,
throughout the ancient Greek world.
So though described as 'Boeotian' in the auction
catalogue this piece was quite probably made in Athens. It is of course
possible that it is a product from Tanagra itself , where there was production
of terracottas before the introduction of the Hellenistic true 'Tanagra' type.
Late 4th century BC, most likely a little before 350 BC,
a little before the 'true' Hellenistic period 'Tanagras'
From my own collection. Ex Bonham's 1991. Ex
collection Max Muller, ex Heinrich Schliemann.
Of course it comes with this old scrap of paper.