3 Terracotta female figures

Period: Late Helladic IIIA

Date: ca. 1400–1300 B.C.

Culture: Helladic, Mycenaean

Medium: Terracotta

Dimensions: 35.11.16: H. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 m)
35.11.17: H. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm)
35.11.18: H.: 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm)

Classification: Terracottas

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1935

Accession Number: 35.11.16–.18


Most of the clay figurines made on mainland Greece in the late fourteenth and early thirteenth centuries B.C. are female and seem to represent goddesses. Like these three figurines, many of them are crowned, wear long dresses, and stand in conventional poses with hands raised, resting on hips, held between the breasts, or with elbows raised and fists brought against the top of the chest. While these Mycenaean figurines ultimately derive from Cretan types, their proliferation on the Greek mainland may indicate an influence from the Near East, particularly Syria, where small clay goddesses were made in abundance at this time. They have been recovered in vast numbers from certain regions like the Argolid, Attica, and Thebes. Although very few have been found in situ, some were placed in sanctuaries, where they were used as votive offerings, or in tombs, where they may have served as protective goddesses.
These terracotta female figurines are referred to as phi (35.11.17-.18), tau (13.11.16), or psi figurines, for their resemblance in shape to those Greek letters. They generally wear a long, enveloping garment, perhaps a kind of robe. Their long hair is usually drawn back in a plait or "ponytail," with some loose locks over the forehead. Often, they are adorned with a polos, a tall headdress associated with divinities, and a necklace.
The two phi-type figurines depicted here have circular bodies completely covered with painted wavy lines, perhaps indicating folds of drapery. Breasts are indicated, although the arms are little more than bulges hanging down at the sides. Their faces are typically pinched, with eyes applied as separate slips of clay. The tau-type figurine has the conventional hollow, columnar stem with the head rendered somewhat larger in proportion to the body. Characteristically, the figure is high waisted with arms, rendered as singly applied strips of clay, folded neatly over the breasts. Like the other two figurines, this one wears a long garment, only here it is simply decorated with two vertical lines down the front and back. The figurine's coiffure is particularly distinct, with a plait that is rendered over the top of the headdress and down the back of the neck. A fringe of hair peeks out from under the edge of an elaborately festooned polos.