Volume 9, September 2005, Section O053

The Mycenaean Terracotta Figurine
from the Royal Museums of Art and History
in Brussels

Alena Trckova-Flamee, Doct.(Educ.), Doct. (H. Art)
Encyclopedia Mythica Staff

The here under described Mycenaean terracotta figurine from the Royal Museums in Brussels (inv. A 30) was a few times mentioned and even pictured in the literature, but not one study was fully completed about this exhibit. A real provenance and a date of this figure are not known and its special style and even a possible function are not sufficiently described.

The Brussels' terracotta is representing a woman keeping a child on her left hand. Unfortunately the statuette is broken on its upper part, so the head, right hand and a handle on her back are missing. The rich ornamentation and its medium size are giving to us evidence, that this piece was made with a more carefully touch than most of the mass-produced Mycenaean terracotta figurines.

I try to complete the literature and material about this figure from Brussels by describing its special elements and comparing it with some Mycenaean works, because I suppose that this figure is a quite exceptional representation. The aim of this study is to enhance our knowledge about the provenance of this figurine, its style, its function and the date when it was created.

This Mycenaean female figure in terracotta was for the first time mentioned in 1956 in an article, which served as a guide for several terracotta statuettes exhibited in the Royal Museums in Brussels. V.Verhoogen, the conservator of the Greek and Roman Antiquities, described thus briefly this headless figure which was keeping a child against her breast. According to her opinion the figure looked a little clumsy, but she noticed also that this woman-figure was created with some careful attention, with long hair falling on her back, with a necklace and long clothes with some flounces.

The Mycenaean terracotta figurines and their development was a theme followed mainly by E. French. She prepared a detailed classification for all of them and she divided the female terracotta's into thirteen groups. In the group number ten, she collected the figurines carrying children, and she called them kourotrophoi. French mentioned also the Brussels' figure; according to her opinion it was the only one between the larger pieces carrying a child. She noticed, that the figure has "small plastic arms curving over the chest, while as usual the child is being held in the left arm." She pointed out an elaborate decoration - a necklace, an applied plait at the back of the figure, as well as painted curls and a number of horizontal bands on the stem of the figure. French felt that this piece was a special one - a "most striking" one.

Also R. Laffineur put his attention to some formal elements emerging from this terracotta but he did not describe its style. He found a strange disproportion between the primitive form and the rich painted details of this figure and he characterized some of the features appearing on this piece as "artless" (like the shape of the female arms and the simply made body of her child).

V. Verhoogen was an exception between the authors, when she tried to think a little about the possible role of this figure. She supposed that this statue perhaps represented the Mother Goddess but she did not give any other explanation about it. On the contrary she admitted that we could have in front of us some kind of a cult image or a simple picture of a mother carrying her baby.

Generally spoken, there are many studies describing the role of terracotta statuettes, some of them are specialized to the theme kourotrophos. A. Sakellariou - Xenaki for instance supposed that the kourotrophos was an archetypal symbol of the Mother Goddess and her sphere of influence. T. Hadzisteciou-Price studied the kourotrophos figurines in context with the Greek nursing deities and their cult. K. Kaza-Papageorgiou believed when the figure carrying a child was excavated from a child burial, its function was to protect and to nurse the child after its death or maybe to represent the children's playthings - dolls.

Another theme discussed over many years by scholars is the origin of the Mycenaean female terracotta figures and their relation to the Minoan art. The figurine from Brussels was mentioned always as "the Mycenaean piece" and V. Verhoogen confirmed that it originated in Argolida. So, no special attention was put to some stylistic analyses of this figurine in context with the Minoan art.

The authors now agree about the dating of the Mycenaean terracotta figures, which they believed were ranging from the Late Helladic IIIA until the Late Helladic IIIC period. The figure with crossed hands over the breasts or keeping a child (kourotrophos) was created firstly, while the figurine with upraised hands appeared later on. The small terracotta figures were made by hand, while larger figurines were created in a special process described as a typical Mycenaean technique. The lower body of a figure was formed on a potter's wheel as a hollow tube and then the upper part of the figurine was adapted to a human form by the hands of the potter. The modeling was stylized in an extremely manner and details were being added in a reddish glaze often with some design used in pottery.

The Brussels' terracotta female figure carrying a child was an acquisition from Nauplio realized by J. Capart in March 1902. This exhibit (inv. A 30) has a part in the Greek collection of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels from the 18th September 1902.

The figurine (which is now 13,9 cm high, 7,8 cm broad and 5,0 cm thick measured anteroposteriorly) was originally larger, because the head and right arm are missing and a handle on the back of the figure is broken. This female-type statuette with a child in her left arm represents the so-called kourotrophos (in Greek kourotrophos = to nourish a young boy).

The female figurine has her both breasts exposed, she is dressed in a long cloth with seven horizontal strips on her cylinder-shaped skirt. Her ornamentations consist of a long necklace hanging from one band around her neck, a small ring on her left hand and two armlets also on her left arm. Wealthy and rich undulating hair locks are elegantly curling down on the back of the figure with some braids around. We can observe also the double ribbons creating some curved decorations on her arms. The rest of the handle at the center of her back is formed as two vertical pieces of cloth with three bands in every one.

When we are now putting our attention to the child, we can see that the baby is in a hugged position between the left breast and the left forearm of the female figurine, with its head nicely resting against the neck of the lady. The child's head with a long neck is shaped as the head of a bird with round eyes. A cloth is stylized with some curved vertical lines over the body of this baby and on its left arm a decorative armlet is painted, in the same manner as the female figure is wearing. The position of the child gently squeezed near to the breast of the female by her forearm, as well as the same kind of decoration (armlets) on both their respective arms is showing some relation between these persons.

When we look at the form of the figure itself, we can say that it was made following a typical Mycenaean technique and shape. A hollow tube was cylindrically thrown on a potter's wheel with a free-hand modeling of the upper part of the statuette. This upper part of the figurine, mainly the shapes of a female hand and a child's body, were once criticized as an artless one. The hand of the woman is unnaturally curved and the head and neck of the baby looks like a bird. Such form gives us an impression, that the bodies were deformed.

There are a few female-figurines between medium-sized terracotta pieces, which have some similarities with the Brussels' exhibit, but no one is a kourotrophos type. The pose of the first figurine holding her breasts and the second figurine with crossed hands over her breasts, which were chosen for this comparison, can be both put on the same line with a kourotrophos. Mainly the second selected figurine has close stylistic links with the Brussels' statuette while the first and the third figure are representing the typical Mycenaean style. The third figurine with upraised hands is evidently a later type, but there are some technical and stylistic similarities between this figure and the previous pieces. All of these figurines, which I am going to compare, were discovered at Mycenae and they can be dated from the Late Helladic IIIA to the Late Helladic IIIB.

The first figurine - a goddess - holding her breasts (33cm) was found by Lord W. Taylour at Mycenae. Due to the finding-place in a temple area, she was named a goddess. Her body, created as a hollow tube on a potter's wheel, was not yet profiled (as the kourotrophos from Brussels and the other figurines were) and the parts of her body were not modeled anatomically correct. Her hands (a part of the left hand is missing) keeping her breasts seem a little short while a naturalistic head, which is like added to her body, is too small. Her head has a smooth expression with a modeled little nose and the simple painted details - the round eyes and long eyebrows, a small line for mouth and the dots for the nose. Perhaps for beauty or as a special sign some points of flowers were designed on her face. The figure is richly ornamented by jewelry (double necklaces on her neck, the armlets of beads on her arms and a similar type of a bracelet on her wrist) and by the papyrus flowers on her cloth. Due to this special decoration on her dress Taylour dated this piece to the LH IIIA (to the end of the 14th century BC.).

The second figurine with crossed hands over her breasts (originally bigger, now 18,5 cm) came on the light from the earlier excavations at Mycenae. The statuette is broken on the top of her head and also her handle on the back is missing. This piece was made as a hollow tube with a cylinder-shaped skirt and with hands crossed over her breasts. The figure has uncovered breasts and on her skirt there are six horizontal strips (the Brussels figure has seven strips). The double necklaces of beads are added on one band, worn around her neck by the same way as the kourotrophos from Brussels has. Also the shape of her double armlets as well as the double curved ribbons, hanging from her hair on her arms and even a handle on her back were shaped in the same way for both of these figurines. The head of the figurine with crossed hands looks like a bird with a double short line representing the nose and the eyes with a rhomboid form and dark concentric pupils. Unfortunately, we cannot compare this head with the Brussels' statue because the upper part of this kourotrophos from Brussels is missing. But a similar type of the eyes as the figurine with crossed hands has, we can observe (turned in a different position) also on a face of the so-called little goddess from the Shrine at Mycenae.

And this is the third figurine -the little goddess from the Shrine (29 cm), which I am going to compare with the Brussels' statuette. This figure came also from Mycenae and was discovered by Lord W. Taylour. Although she has some similarities with the previous statuettes, she represents evidently a later type of the figure with upraised hands. Her body is profiled as a roller with a hollow tube and her thin hands are not totally complete. The details of her face as well as the decorations on her cloth and on her body are based on the old Mycenaean tradition of ornamentation, but all of these features are more stylized. The face with the rhomboid shaped eyes, the eyebrows, double small lines of the mouth, a plastic nose and a decoration on her cheek are giving a strong expression to this figure. The horizontal stripes on her skirt and a double long necklace could be compared with a decoration of the Brussels' figurine, but the cloth and the ornamentation of the little goddess are more complicated. The broader and smaller lines are creating her skirt and the lines on her arms and on her neck are representing perhaps a dress with a collar decorated with two double lines of beads and a double long necklace. The rhombus motifs on her cheeks are repeated on her cloth. Lord W. Taylour dated the little goddess to the LH IIIB period.

On the base of material collected in this study, I tried to demonstrate that the terracotta female figurine with a child from the Royal Museums in Brussels is quite an exceptional representation, which could be compared with some terracotta statuettes discovered at Mycenae.

Even before me, some of the scholars described an elaborate decoration, the painted curls and applied plait at the back of this statuette and understood that this piece is a little special - a "most striking one". An idea about some kind of cult image, perhaps the Mother Goddess represented by this terracotta, was pronounced and an opinion about the kourotrophos statue in connection with the Greek nursery deities came on the light.

There are many reasons for supporting an idea about a matter of importance of this image presented by the statuette from Brussels. A few of the formal elements like the seize of the figure, the kind of cloth, the jewels and ornamentations of her hair are showing that this piece was created with a special care. The so-called "artless elements" mentioned by one author in connection with this figure, must be understood in a context of the Mycenaean characteristic style and their kind of artistic creations. The modeling of their figures was based on some tradition, which existed in the Mycenaean art, in which the figures were often created with those thin arms, sometimes curved in a special manner. During the LH IIIB the painted figures on some Mycenaean craters have their bodies created by this way. Also a stylized figure with a bird shaped head and rounded eyes, as the baby from kourotrophos has, became a typical motif used in the Mycenaean iconography mainly during LH IIIB2 period.

There is no doubt that the Brussels' terracotta was created in a close relation to some terracotta figurines from Mycenae representing the Mycenaean artistic style. The first and the third compared figures are characteristic images of the Mycenaean style. But this Mycenaean style was sometimes modified with some Minoan features. The figurine from Brussels as well as the other similar terracotta with crossed hands over her breasts from Mycenae (the second compared figure) belongs to such Mycenaean style influenced by the Minoan ideas. Both of these figurines were modeled with a handle at their back representing the sacral knot, one of the symbols of the Minoan religion. Their painted clothing (a flounced skirt and the nude breasts) as well as the shaping of their hair with the ribbons indicates some Minoan traditions.

The attributes of the figurine from Brussels - the sacral knot and a child could help us to understand also the meaning of this representation and its function. The sacral knot was usually used on the dress of the Minoan priestesses as a sacerdotal sign. The other attribute showing the role of this figurine is a child in her arms. There is depicted a protective relation between this female figurine and her child, confirmed with a special position (how this woman is keeping her baby and how the baby is resting with its head on her neck and breast), but also with the same type of jewels (the armlets) on the arms of both protagonists.

The meaning of this representation was based probably on some religious significance increasing under the Minoan belief. In Crete there was a strong cult of Eileithyia (or Eleuthia) who was, according to Homer, the goddess of the childbirth- delivering pains. Unfortunately, we have no direct evidence about worshipping a similar goddess on the Greek mainland during the Mycenaean period. Nevertheless, this terracotta figure could express some similar Mycenaean thoughts. We could suppose that the female figurine from Brussels represented a divine priestess taking care for the children and perhaps for the mothers too.

The figurine from Brussels was not dated. We could however think about its origin in connection with the oldest statuette introduced here - a goddess holding her breasts from the LH IIIA2 (the end of the fourteenth century BC.) due to the conservative pose - kourotrophos-. But the style of the Brussels' figurine as well as the other similar figure with crossed hands over her breasts is different in relation to the style of the oldest statue. On the contrary there are some technical and stylistic links detected on the Brussels' figurine and on the other similar terracotta with crossed hands over her breasts and the third presented figure - the little goddess from the Shrine. This last figurine introduced here - the little goddess from the Shrine could be dated due to her upraised hands and a special ornamentation more precisely to the LH IIIB2 (1250-1200 BC.).

We have to conclude that the Brussels' kourotrophos and the similar figure with crossed hands over her breasts were created probably at the same moment. Because some of their technical and stylistic features are closely related to the style of the LH IIIB1- LH IIIB2 BC, we could think that the figure from Brussels and the other similar terracotta came on the light at the time, which was near to the period, when also the little goddess from the Shrine was created - probably at the LH IIIB1 (1300-1250 BC.) or just between the LH IIIB1 - LH IIIB2 at period about 1250 BC.

Important Note
In this above presented article I try to complete the literature and material about the Mycenaean terracotta female figurine from the Greek collection of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels. The medium seized statuette is representing the kourotrophos type unfortunately with its upper part broken. It was a few times mentioned in the literature as the Mycenaean piece originated in Argolida, but its real provenance and a date is not known and its style and possible function of this representation is not sufficiently described. I suppose that this exhibit from Brussels is a quite special representation, which can be ranged between some female terracotta's originated at Mycenae. By describing its special elements and comparing this piece from Brussels with three Mycenaean works I want to prove my opinion and to increase our knowledge about the provenance, the style, the role and the date when this figurine from the Royal Museums in Brussels was created.

List of Illustrations
1. The female terracotta figure with a child (kourotrophos), front view, the Royal Museums of Art and History Brussels, inv. A 30 (with permission from the Royal Museums of Art and History Brussels
2. The female terracotta figure with a child (kourotrophos), back view, the Royal Museums of Art and History Brussels, inv. A 30 (with permission from the Royal Museums of Art and History Brussels
3. The female terracotta figure - a goddess holding her breasts, Mycenae, Late Helladic IIIA - the first compared figure (Private archive A. Flamee)
4. The female figure with crossed hands over her breasts, Mycenae - the second compared figure (Private archive A. Flamee)
5. The little goddess from the Shrine, Mycenae. Late Helladic IIIB - the third compared figure (Private archive A. Flamee)

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