Hellenistic Greek Terracotta Statuette of Skylla
Greek · Hellenistic, 3rd – 2nd century B.C.
H: 28.6 cm (11.2 in)
The conus-shaped base treated with the incised wavy pattern to indicate the water element supports the figure of the female monster, Skylla, emerging from the sea. The fantastic creature is imaged as half-human, half-beast, the human legs are substituted with the long curling tails of a dragon covered with the fish scales. Skylla appears as a beautiful maiden, with charming and pleasant expression of her face which has regular features; the hairstyle is carefully arranged: the hair parted above the forehead is spread over her bare shoulders in long tresses. The nudity of the upper torso makes the look of the young girl even more attractive; however, the beauty hides the danger of her powers.
The myth of Skylla is documented in Homer’s Odyssey (XII, 73 ff.). The sea monster, with the head, torso and voice of a pretty young woman and the lower body formed by twelve serpentine fishtails, both coiled with the tails upraised, with six dog protomes springing from her hips, was originally a nymph turned into a hideous and terrifying monster by Circe (or by Amphitrite, according to the versions reported by the ancient mythologists). After her metamorphosis, the young woman lived in a cave on the Italian coast of the Strait of Messina. From there, she terrorized sailors, capturing them on their ships and devouring them alive. For Homer, Skylla was one of the many adversities which Odysseus, King of Ithaca, had to deal with on his way home, after the Trojan War; during this episode, the hero saw several of his companions perish in a terrifying manner, without being able to save them.
In this present and few other examples, the monster’s waist is not surrounded by dogs, only the fish fins are arranged like a belt with the central floral element. Skylla is represented upright, with two hands grasping the rudder of a ship and probably the anchor or oar, the reminders of her attack. The composition of the figure with the arms as well as the serpentine coils extended to the sides is symmetrical and well-balanced. The remains of pigments (blue, yellow) testify that initially the piece was painted and had both the vivid and decorative appearance.
Ex- estate of Dr. Jacob Hirsch (1874- 1955), New York; Ex- Tom Verzi collection, New York; Ex- Sheldon and Barbara Breitbart collection, New York-Arizona, acquired in 1966.
FABULOUS MONSTERS, New York, Summer 2021, no. 44