Published: May 8, 2018 By

Catalogue Entry Photograph of terracotta female figurine, frontal, against neutral gray background.

This vase is one of a collection of Greek artifacts held by the CU Art Museum.

Gift to CU Classics Department
Transferred to CU Museum of Natural History
Transferred to CU Art Museum (2006)

Height: 12.7 cm
Width: 4.8 cm
Depth: 3.5 cm
Date: mid-6th century B.C.E.
Origin: Anatolia or East Greece

Description: Terracotta figurine of a standing female figure on a shallow square base. A scarf or shawl is pulled up over the head. Body weight is shifted to one side as if standing on one foot. Left arm is slightly raised to rest on front of left hip; right arm bent across torso as right hand holds a rounded object, perhaps a dove, against the chest between the breasts. 

Additional photos of this object show details of the garments, back, base, and object.


Terracotta figurines have been found in multiple types of sites (1) and are used for a variety or purposes: some were used as dolls (2); others were funerary or votive offerings; and others were miniature representations of gods and goddesses. This particular figurine is a votive offering, although it is difficult to determine if it is intended to represent a goddess, a mortal attendant to the goddess, or a mortal woman presenting a gift to the goddess (3). Votives were presented to gods and goddesses in order to gain the diety's protection; they have been found in sanctuaries and temples, as well as in small household shrines (4). 

Like other votive offerings in the Archaic period of Greece (c. 700-480 B.C.E.), this figurine was fashioned from two molds (5), one for the front and one for the back of the statuette. The figurine was then embellished by hand to accentuate features of the face, hair, dress, and any attributes. Terracotta molds of this type first appeared in the East Greek world and Anatolia in the 7th century B.C.E. and were introduced to mainland Greece by their eastern neighbors in North Syria (6) as a part of the wave of so-called Orientalizing. 

Unfortunately, a salt deposit covers most of this figurine, obscuring significant details of its face and dress. The obscuring makes a confident identification of the figure difficult. A fuller analysis of the figurine's clothing, for example, may help scholars understand the changing women's fashions in the Archaic period, which could aid, too, in a more specific dating of the artifact (7). 

What is visible today is a serene-looking female figure. She holds an oblong or rounded votive offering in her right hand and wears a long dress, called a chiton, covered by a himation, or cloak, which trails from her shoulders down to her waist. The hint of an Archaic smile (8) remains on her face, as well as the bare outline of almond-shaped eyes and a strong nose. Her hair, though concealed somewhat by salt encrustation and weathering, shows a straight middle part; the rest of her head may have been covered by the back of her himation or a veil, which would have concealed further decoration. The left foot is slightly forward, and the right hand seems to draw aside the chiton in a gesture common to contemporary Archaic korai, or large marble statues of women (9). Figurines of this period were usually decorated with vivid color (10); unfortunately, however, no trace of pigmentation remains on this figurine, which shows only the light orange color of East Greek clay (11). 

The figurine is most likely associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. This identification is based on the oblong or rounded votive that she holds in her right hand, which may represent a dove, a Photograph of terracotta female figurine, facing slightly to the viewer's right, against neutral gray background.common votive offering to Aphrodite (12), or a hare, which was considered an appropriate love gift in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships (13). Other offerings found represented in such contexts are eggs and pomegranates. Eggs were typical offerings for Dionysus (14), while pomegranates were associated with Persephone, goddess of the Underworld, making them more appropriate as funerary offerings (15). Eggs and pomegranates are not typical attributes of figurines in the so-called Aphrodite Group, to which this figurine belongs. 

Because of its unique form (16) and regionally-specific clay type (17), this figurine has been associated with a very popular technique in molded terracottas native to East Greece called the Aphrodite Group. This trend first appeared around 557 B.C.E., following an earlier fashion of terracotta figurines, and it lost its appeal with the introduction of the Post-Aphrodite Group around 500 B.C.E. (18). Notably, the two main types of standing Aphrodite Group figurines were either hollow or solid. Many of the hollow molded figurines during the earlier period of production were used as scent-bottles and exported with perfume inside (19). Our example here is not a perfume flask, but a votive object, worthy of consideration as a work of art as well as an artifact that can tell us much about the beliefs and religious practices of the ancient Greeks during the 6th century B.C.E. 


  1.  According to Higgins, Greek Terracottas (London: Methuen, 1967): 1, "Evidence from find-spots, comprising tombs, sanctuaries, houses, and factory-sites, is more plentiful [than representations of terracottas in other works of art]." 
  2. Dolls represent more than just playthings in the archaeological record. As Felicity Nicholson says, "Terracottas were also made as toys, and before her marriage a young girl would offer her dolls to Apollo, Artemis, or Aphrodite; youths did the same on reaching the age of fourteen" (Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Pottery and Small Terracottas: A Brief Guide for the Small Collector, with a Note on Greek Dress (London: Cory Adams and Mackay Ltd.,1965): 44).  However, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on-line exhibit on terracottas, "Terracotta figurines with articulated limbs are often described as dolls or children's toys, and are sometimes thought to have been dressed in clothes. While one cannot simply dismiss these assumptions, it must be pointed out that this hypothesis is based on an inaccurate reading of an ancient epigram, which was originally interpreted to say that a girl named Timareta dedicated to the goddess (at a sanctuary) her dolls and their dresses. However, more recently it has been convincingly argued that she in fact dedicated her hair and her own clothing. Another point to be made against the figurines being play things is that they are too fragile to be constantly handled by children. The fact that these "dolls" are often discovered in the graves of adults indicates their possible chthonic connection or apotropaic function."
  3. As Felicity Nicholson says, "Find spots for terracottas have been mainly tombs in the vicinity of temples, so that it seems likely that the purpose of these figurines was chiefly religious, at least up to the end of the 5 th century B.C. They were probably made as votary offerings, either as representations of the gods and goddesses themselves (Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite, Dionysus, etc.), or as substitutes for worshippers" (Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Pottery and Small Terracottas: 44).
  4. On the rare occasions when houses have been excavated, terracottas have been discovered in plenty, and it has been plausibly suggested that they had occupied domestic shrines (Higgins, Greek Terracottas: 1).
  5. For thorough explanations of how a terracotta is fashioned during the Archaic period refer to Higgins, Greek Terracottas: 1-5 and Nicholson, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Pottery and Small Terracottas: 45.
  6. These molds appear in Eastern Greece, probably started in Crete and were adapted from Astarte plaques found in North Syria (Nicholson, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Pottery and Small Terracottas: 26). Higgins says that "About 700 B.C., influences from North Syria, Phoenicia, and Cyprus, which had started as a trickle about 800 B.C., now came flooding in. This century covers the so-called Orientalizing period of Greek art, when the culture of the...East was being discovered and assimilated. In terracottas a new technique and a new style made simultaneous appearance" (Greek Terracotta Figurines: The British Museum (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1963): 14.
  7. In reference to the affect of Archaic terracottas on the world of sculpture outside of Eastern Greece, T.B.L. Webster says that  "Sculptors in Athens conformed to the fashion in drapery and hairdressing, but transformed the style into something less sensuous but more precise and brilliant than the original: the process can be followed in the series of marble Korai (maidens) from the Acropolis..." (Greek Terracottas (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1950): 17). 
  8. Gates describes characteristic features inherent in both marble female korai of the Archaic period as well as female terracottas, including the 'Archaic smile', the one foot forward stance, large almond shaped eyes and pulling aside of the chiton as a whimsical gesture (Ancient cities: the archaeology of urban life in the Ancient Near East and Egypt, Greece and Rome (New York: Routledge, 2003): 225). 
  9. Gates says "The standing figure from Rhodes can be dated about 550 B.C. Marble figures of the same general type and date have been found in Ephesus, Samos, Miletus, and other Ionian sites.  There is in fact an established type for standing draped female figures...A similar but life-sized marble statue without an attribute was dedicated to Hera on Samos...." (Ancient cities: 225). 
  10. As Higgins says, "In place of black pottery-glaze, brilliant matte colours were laid over a white slip. When new, these figures must have looked more brilliant than the 'Gorgoneion' class, which is no doubt why the new kind so quickly ousted the old" (Greek Terracotta Figurines:The British Museum: 16).
  11. For a quick description on this region's clay color and texture see: Higgins, Greek Terracottas: 19.
  12. Robert D. Lamberton and Susan I. Rotroff, Birds of the Athenian Agora (Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1985): 9.
  13. Webster, Greek Terracottas: 16.  
  14. For a later example of a terracotta protome of Dionysus with his typical symbols of egg and rooster see: Higgins, Greek Terracottas: 79-80. Examples of terracottas with this symbolism appear a century later, as well. A class of figurines focusing on Demeter or Persephone appears in Corinth during the early 5th century BCE. They are usually depicted holding a fruit, a flower, or a bird.
  15. Nicholson, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Pottery and Small Terracottas: A Brief Guide for the Small Collector: 51.
  16. Higgins has a complete description of the spectrum of terracotta statuettes belonging to the 'Aphrodite Group,' including a description of this specific type of standing figure, notated as Type "D" (Greek Terracottas: 35).   
  17. Higgins, Greek Terracottas, Introduction 1ii.  
  18. For an extensive overview of trends and methods in terracotta, see: Higgins, Greek Terracottas.
  19. According to Higgins, "Both kinds, the scent-bottle and the statuette...were made about 540-530 B.C., and were found on Camirus in Rhodes...They represent the goddess Aphrodite, wearing a chiton and mantle and holding one of her attributes, a dove. Her sleek, well-fed appearance is typical of East Greek art....The backs of these pieces are as well modeled as the fronts and the molded surfaces have been carefully retouched" (Greek Terracotta Figurines: The British Museum: 16).


  • Chara Tzavella-Evjen, Greek and Roman Vases and Statuettes from the University of Colorado Collection (Athens: Archaiologikon Deltion, 1973): 192-197.