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Western Greek Earthenware Protome of Goddess

Western Greece, Rhodes, Archaic period, ca. 6th to 5th century BCE. A mold-made terracotta protome depicting a female head, wearing a himation drawn up and over her head, with a curly fringe of bangs around her forehead and long hair elegantly framing her face and ears. Her face has wide open, almond-shaped eyes, a naturalistic nose, high cheekbones, and the signature Archaic smile. Although the exact significance of this smile is unknown, scholars suggest that the ancient Greeks associated it with good health and well being. The protome is a type of bust made by pressing a thin layer of terracotta into a single mold. These were first made in Rhodes, but from the early fifth century BCE onwards they spread throughout Greece. Originally, this piece would have been brightly painted. Size: 4" W x 6" H (10.2 cm x 15.2 cm); 6.5" H (16.5 cm) on included custom stand.

By the seventh century BCE, Greek art began to evolve from its embrace of geometric patterning, which was favored between approximately 1050 and 700 BCE, to more naturalistic representations of the human figure. Most famous are the freestanding sculptures of two main types, the male standing youth known as a kouros, and the draped standing female kore. The earliest examples demonstrate an Egyptian influence in both pose and proportions, but over time sculptors created even more lifelike representations. These were placed in sanctuaries as well as cemeteries and served as grave markers and dedications to the deities. Protomes like this example demonstrate these developing naturalistic leanings of Greek visual culture as well, with that Archaic smile signifying life and representing the Archaic ideal. They would have been dedicated in an ancient temple to the local deity, perhaps to thank the god or goddess, or to assist in making a request.

Condition: Age-commensurate surface wear, minor loss to headdress and sides, with earthen and mineral deposits throughout. Facial features still visible and lovely.

Provenance: private Swiss collection

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