A female protome in bronze
Period: Greece or Magna Graecia, middle of sixth century B.C.
Dimensions: Height: 16.5cm, width: 8.7cm
Ex Nicolas Koutoulakis (1910-1996), acquired in Paris at the end of the 1950s. Ex-European private collection 1950-1960’s
Bronze covered in a light green clear patina; the piece is in an excellent state of preservation, despite some slight damage to the nose and the right cheek.
The thickness of the bronze is (about 0.6 – 0.8cm.), as well as the important depth of the face, both indicate that this sculpture was made through the “lost wax” technique, rather than being worked cold. In either case the incised details are executed a second time with other utensils to pinpoint the detail.
This type of sculpture is called a Protome; it means a representation of a bust of a human or animal figurine. In this case a female head open at the top surmounts a piece of plate, pinax, pierced with two holes.
The face, of elongated oval form, has mild contours, with a rounded chin. The construction is precise and symmetrical, with horizontal axis that is marked (lines of mouth, the eyes, the eyebrows, the border of the hairline, the crown). The master sculptor noted, with incomparable finesse, the anatomical details, amongst which one must point out the chevrons that indicate the hair, the iris in relief in relation to the oval contour of the eye-ball, and the pearls of the tresses of hair defined one by one. The hairline is arranged in small waves on the forehead and ends with two plaits that descend behind the ears and mark the end of the pinax.
This woman wears a particular crown, made of fluted leaves, arranged vertically one next to the other. This is the only element that can furnish us with information relating to the identity of the figure. During the Archaic period this headgear characterises in certain representations three divinities, which have associations with nature and fertility: Artemis (especially at Sparta), Demeter and Hera. Sometimes the sphinx is found wearing the same crown, but in the case of this head nothing reminds one of these creatures.
Typologically this sculpture is comparable to numerous female protomes in terracotta, commonly found in sanctuaries beginning in the sixth century B.C. They are found in all regions of the Greek world: eastern, continental and colonial. Despite the fact that the study of these objects is problematic, it seems certain that most were offerings that pilgrims dedicated to this divinity whilst visiting one of the sanctuaries. Following this type of protome the holes are placed on the head, near the ears or on the pinax: they served to suspend or hang the object to a wall of the sacred place.
One other object in bronze, with smaller details, seems to remind one of this: it is a protome that represents the same typological characteristics (plaque with head in relief, plaits, hair line on the front, crown of leaves), but which is different from the chronological and stylistic viewpoint. This piece appeared on the market at Basel, described as an attachment the use of which is unknown: the attachment holes are drilled in the pinax and also on top of the piece.
On the other hand one can find excellent parallels to this head in the terracottas of Magna Graecia (cf. ex of Sybaris, of Metaponte and of Locres) and in Sicily (Gela).
From the inscriptions of inventories of certain sanctuaries dating from between the fifth century B.C. and the first century A.D., we know that some metal protomes were exhibited as commemorative plaques.
The uniqueness of this object rules out for the moment any precise chronological and geographical comparisons. Despite this one can place it in the decades around the middle of the sixth century B.C. The style, with its soft contours but a rigid enough structure brings to mind certain works of southern Italy.
DE RIDDER A., Bronzes antiques du Louvre, I, Les figurines, Paris, 1913, p. 20, n. 95, pl. 11.
Pour la petite tête en bronze v. MMAG, Auktion 40, 13.12.1969, p. 88, # 141.
Sur les protomés en terre cuite v. la monographie:
F. CROISSANT, Les protomés féminines archaïques, 1983.
F. CROISSANT in Sibari e la Sibaritide, Atti Taranto 1992, 1994, p. 552-553, pl. 39, 1-2.
V. aussi les études sur Locres et Gela:
M. BARRA BAGNASCO, Protomi in terracotta da Locri Epizefiri, 1986.
J.P. UHLENBROCK, The Terracotta Protomai from Gela, 1988.
Pour les inscriptions voir la liste de
C. BLINKENBERG, Lindos I, Les petits objets, 1931, col. 589-590.
Pour la datation on peut comparer cette tête surtout avec les koraï des groupes 3 et 4 du classement de Richter dans
G.M.A. RICHTER, Koraï, Archic Greek Maidens, 1968, 44-61.