Terracotta Dancers

Object: 256
JIAAW, Wagner Collection

To someone like me who studies the Greco-Roman world, at first glance this is a very familiar scene and artefact. The two terracotta dancing figures display a quite common Hellenistic (4th/3rd century BC) image, and we find many examples of this kind in Greece (Athens and Tanagra) or Southern Italy (Sicily or Taranto). It’s a great period for sculpture, in which we suddenly see a lot more dynamics, movement, and emotion allowed in statues, together with the depiction of more “common” people (as opposed to the earlier period that predominantly consisted of religious and mythological scenes).

As happy as confirming the above identification would make me, a closer look shows certain particularities that cannot be ignored. The clothing, hairstyles, faces, and postures are different, for instance. The execution of this object is much cruder, with far fewer details than the three-dimensional Hellenistic figurines would normally display. The Hellenistic figures were all about details, in the female dress (himation), for instance, so that it could show movement very well. And is that not what you would want in a dancing couple? This figurine therefore could be either an exceptionally carelessly executed example or a Roman or maybe even way later copy (or fake?) of these kinds of statuettes. It reminds me of Italian dancing I participated in at village parties I attended a lot during my fieldwork!

-Eva Mol, Greco-Roman Archaeologist (JIAAW Postdoctoral Fellow 2017-2019)

Learn more about Hellenistic sculptures and see similar objects:

How the Natural Beauty of Hellenistic Sculpture Has Captivated the World for Centuries

Hellenistic sculpture is one of art history’s most prized practices. Celebrated for its unprecedented naturalism, this movement introduced a skillful sculptural approach that artists would emulate for years to come. Today, Hellenistic antiquities can be found in top collections across the globe, with world-famous works like the Winged Victory of Samothrace leading the way.

Terracotta statuette of a dancing woman | Greek, South Italian, Tarentine | Hellenistic | The Met

McClees, Helen and Christine Alexander. 1933. The Daily Life of the Greeks and Romans: As Illustrated in the Classical Collections, 5th ed. p. 79, fig. 98, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. McClees, Helen and Christine Alexander. 1941. The Daily Life of the Greeks and Romans: As Illustrated in the Classical Collections, 6th ed.

Terracotta statuette of a dancing woman | Greek, South Italian, Tarentine | Hellenistic | The Met

Richter, Gisela M. A. 1913. “Classical Department: The Accessions of 1912. Sculptures, Terracottas, and Miscellaneous Objects.” Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 8(8): p. 177. Richter, Gisela M. A. 1927. Handbook of the Classical Collection. pp. 202-3, fig. 140, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Richter, Gisela M.