Navigation – Plan du site
At the Museums

Figurines. A Microcosmos of Clay. An Exhibition

Angeliki Koukouvou

Résumé

A major exhibition opened at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki on April 3, 2017. Entitled “Figurines. A Microcosmos of Clay,” this exhibition presents some 617 terracotta figurines from Macedonia and Thrace that range in date from the early Neolithic period to late antiquity.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

Fig. 1. Exhibition catalogueAfficher l’image
Crédits : © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

1On April 3, 2017, a major exhibition opened at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Greece. “Figurines. A Microcosmos of Clay” is an exhibition dedicated to one of the most pervasive, diachronic, and global productions of the ancient world. This new exhibition is a production of the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum with the collaboration of 16 Ephorates of Antiquities of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. It presents a panorama of 671 clay figurines dating from the earliest Neolithic period (7th millennium B.C.E) to late Antiquity (4th century CE). These artefacts, 348 of which belong to the collection of the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, derive mainly from recent excavations in Macedonia and Thrace. This is the first exhibition of this scale that focuses exclusively on terracotta figurines that has been organised in Greece by any institution, public or private.

2The selected objects document the coroplastic production of this region of northern Greece for over 6,500 years, while for the majority of these objects this is their first public presentation. The exhibition aims to unravel the history of the local workshops within the perspective of cross-cultural exchanges throughout thousands of years: their influences, their affinities, their achievements. In addition, this exhibition offers a multi-dimensional presentation by commenting on aspects of technology, function, and symbolism, along with the economic, social, and ideological contexts within which these figurines were created.

3The challenge in organizing this exhibition was great: the figurines that were selected display had to be integrated into the curatorial concept to form an organic synthesis that would support the original idea and respond aesthetically and perceptively to all aspects of the subject.

4Two interconnected galleries of the museum host the installation, while wall text panels and object labels in Greek and English provide information to the visitors.

5In the first hall the exhibition is structured in units following a chronological and geographical narrative.

  • Figures from the mists of time – prehistoric times: figurine making in Macedonia and Thrace

  • With earth and water – historic times: technical procedures in figurative terracottas

  • A colourful microcosmos - colour decorative techniques

  • Workshops and craftspeople - significant coroplastic workshops in northern Greece

  • The figurines in the settlements and cemeteries of Macedonia and Thrace - a panorama of figurines from the Archaic to Roman times

6In the second hall the material is organised in the display cases according to typology and iconography (protomes, Tanagras, theatrical figurines etc.) aiming to hint at the aspects of use, interaction, and interpretation according to modern theoretical approaches.

  • Uses and interpretations of figurines

  • Gods and believers - figurines found in sanctuaries, which represent gods or dedicators

  • Companions and protectors in the underworld - figurines as burial offerings

  • Forming life - figurines as a resource of information on everyday life

  • Zoomorphic figurines

  • Special form, valuable content - 'plastic' vessels that combine the art of figurine making with pottery

  • ‘An enactment of a deed that is important and complete’ - theatrical figurines

7The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue of 504 pages with general texts, detailed entries for all the figurines on display – most of them unpublished – and colour photographs. The Greek catalogue is now available and the English one is in press.

8The exhibition will be open to the public from April 2017 to April 2018. Throughout its duration, educational programmes and guided tours will be held. On the occasion of the exhibition a scientific conference and an experimental workshop will be organised.

Exhibition

9General coordination: Polyxeni Adam-Veleni

10Curators: Evangelia Stefani, Elektra Zografou, Angeliki Koukouvou, Ourania Palli, Eleftheria Akrivopoulou, Katerina Behtsi, Eleonora Melliou

11Museographic design: Giorgos Tsekmes

12Graphic design: Roxani Vlachopoulou

Visiting hours daily:

13April 10–October 31: 8:00 to 20:00; November 1–April 9: 9:00 to 16:00.

Exhibition catalogue

14Polyxeni Adam-Veleni, Elektra Zografou, Angeliki Koukouvou, Ourania Palli, Evangelia Stefani (eds), Ειδώλιο. Ένας μικρόκοσμος από πηλό, Thessaloniki 2017.

Fig. 1. Detail of the exhibition hall.

Fig. 1. Detail of the exhibition hall.

© Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports /TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

Fig. 2. Detail of the exhibition hall.

Fig. 2. Detail of the exhibition hall.

© Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

15Fig. 3 is an extremely rare example of a large sized Neolithic figurine in Greece. The belly and the navel of the figure are accented, possibly indicating pregnancy. The imposing size of the female figure – it is indeed an actual small statue – the posture, and the jewellery (bracelets on the wrists) point to some special significance, which, however, judging by the furniture on which the figure sits (seat without a back covered with textile), is possibly related to the domestic space.

16

Fig. 3. “The Lake Lady,seated female figure.” Lakeside settlement of Dispilio, Kastoria. Late Middle / early Late Neolithic I

Fig. 3. “The Lake Lady,seated female figure.” Lakeside settlement of Dispilio, Kastoria. Late Middle / early Late Neolithic I

Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

17

Fig. 4. Figurines of seated females from the same series through six successive generations. Artemision of Thasos, Archaic period.

Fig. 4. Figurines of seated females from the same series through six successive generations. Artemision of Thasos, Archaic period.

Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

18The archaic repertoire of Thasian coroplastic workshops is dominated by enthroned female figures. Despite their lack of identification, these types in the past have been interpreted as representations of deities. Nevertheless, more recently some scholars have argued for their interpretations as conventional depictions of mortals according to their social and family status: the lawful wife and mother is seated on a throne.

19Fig. 5 is a clay figurine of a Milesian canine, the most common small domestic dog in ancient Greece. Its rich fur and the anatomical details are plastically formed. The white slip, as substrate for the paint, is very well preserved.

20

Fig. 5. Milesian canine. Therme cemetery 450–400 B.C.E.

Fig. 5. Milesian canine. Therme cemetery 450–400 B.C.E.

Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

Fig. 6. Actor in the role of a slave. 400–350 B.C.E. Acanthus (Ierissos), Chalkidiki.

Fig. 6. Actor in the role of a slave. 400–350 B.C.E. Acanthus (Ierissos), Chalkidiki.

Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

21The actor impersonates a bearded slave, sitting on a stone plinth or altar. The prototype is Attic. The preservation of the figurine and the quality of its execution make it exceptional, not only as a work of art, but also for its importance in dating the transition from Old to Middle Comedy, as well as for its discovery in the city of Akanthus. Olynthus and Akanthus were gateways, as also was Amphipolis, for the dispersal of the production of Attic theater in the northeastern coasts of the Aegean during the late Classical period. The Macedonian dynasty from Archelaos (late 5th century B.C.E.) showed a great interest – for its own propagandistic reasons – in spreading the Attic theatrical entertainment in Macedonia.

Fig. 7. Funerary ensemble from a young girl’s grave. Southern cemetery of Pydna (Alikes near Kitros), Pieria. 325–300 B.C.E.

Fig. 7. Funerary ensemble from a young girl’s grave. Southern cemetery of Pydna (Alikes near Kitros), Pieria. 325–300 B.C.E.

Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

22This burial of a young girl contained 21 clay figurines, clay vessels, a gold coin of Philip II, and gold jewellery. Young children were often accompanied by large numbers of figurines that have been interpreted as farewell offerings or gifts that were made during the burial ceremony. Ensembles of clay figurines also often accompanied the burials of girls or young women, whose lives were cut short before they could attain marriageable age.

23

Fig. 8. War elephant. Thessaloniki, Western Cemetery. 3rd century B.C.E.

Fig. 8. War elephant. Thessaloniki, Western Cemetery. 3rd century B.C.E.

Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

24The elephant is represented in a passive stance and has a thick textile that covers its body. A rectangular basket is attached to the back of the elephant and holds two warriors, while on three sides of the basket there are hanging shields. An elephant rider sits at the back of the elephant’s head holding a small shield of Macedonian type; he may be wearing a kausia. This elephant figurine is an extremely rare find.

25

Fig. 9. Mould of a female figure and a modern cast. Agora of Pella, Eastern Stoa. Early 1st century B.C.E.

Fig. 9. Mould of a female figure and a modern cast. Agora of Pella, Eastern Stoa. Early 1st century B.C.E.

Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved

26This mould was found in a destruction layer along with various vessels, lamps, and moulds for the manufacture of relief vessels. On the back, deeply incised before firing, are the letters IC. To the same workshop and bearing the identical letters IC on the back, but with differences in several details, belongs another mould found also in the Agora of Pella.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Detail of the exhibition hall.
Crédits © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports /TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 156k
Titre Fig. 2. Detail of the exhibition hall.
Crédits © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre Fig. 3. “The Lake Lady,seated female figure.” Lakeside settlement of Dispilio, Kastoria. Late Middle / early Late Neolithic I
Crédits Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre Fig. 4. Figurines of seated females from the same series through six successive generations. Artemision of Thasos, Archaic period.
Crédits Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 48k
Titre Fig. 5. Milesian canine. Therme cemetery 450–400 B.C.E.
Crédits Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 44k
Titre Fig. 6. Actor in the role of a slave. 400–350 B.C.E. Acanthus (Ierissos), Chalkidiki.
Crédits Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 76k
Titre Fig. 7. Funerary ensemble from a young girl’s grave. Southern cemetery of Pydna (Alikes near Kitros), Pieria. 325–300 B.C.E.
Crédits Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Fig. 8. War elephant. Thessaloniki, Western Cemetery. 3rd century B.C.E.
Crédits Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Titre Fig. 9. Mould of a female figure and a modern cast. Agora of Pella, Eastern Stoa. Early 1st century B.C.E.
Crédits Photo: O. Kourakis. © Hellenic Republic, Ministry of Culture and Sports / TAP Archaeological Receipts Fund all rights reserved
URL http://journals.openedition.org/acost/docannexe/image/1039/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Angeliki Koukouvou, « Figurines. A Microcosmos of Clay. An Exhibition », Les Carnets de l’ACoSt [En ligne], 16 | 2017, mis en ligne le 04 juin 2017, consulté le 11 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/acost/1039

Haut de page

Auteur

Angeliki Koukouvou

Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
angkoukou@yahoo.gr

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les Carnets de l'ACoSt est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Association for Coroplastic Studies
  • OpenEdition Journals