Antefix representing a young woman
Culture: Etruscan, Iberian, Sardinian
Period: Late 6th-early 5th century B.C.
Dimensions: Height: 48.5 cm
Ex- F.C. private collection, Switzerland, prior to 1991
Conditions: Complete and in excellent condition; minor chips; one arm reglued. Blackish-brown, red and creamy white paint very well preserved, though slightly faded in places.
An architectural element in buildings, the antefix originally capped the end of a row of roof tiles and was especially designed for the decoration and protection of a cornice. At the back of this object, the outline of the semicircular tile, whose purpose was to mask the open ends of the curved tiles which alternated with flat ones, is still visible.
In Etruria, from the second half of the 6th century B.C., these architectural elements gained in importance, until they became real statuettes at the turn of the century, depicting a human figure (like this example), mythological creatures or a group of two figures carved in the round.
Our antefix, which is of remarkable artistic quality, represents a female figure carved to the lower thighs. She is positioned on a square base decorated with a checkerboard. The back of the statuette is almost flat and undecorated, since it was not meant to be visible to the viewer. Between the shoulder blades of the woman, there is a fragment of the tenon that guaranteed the stability of the figure (the other end of the tenon was attached to the tile).
Typologically, this woman recalls the Greek korai that were familiar to the Etruscans thanks to the intense commercial exchanges between the two regions. She is depicted upright in a frontal position; with her left hand, she holds the fabric of her garment at hip level; her right arm is bent and raised laterally.
The young woman is dressed in a long, brownish-red chiton surmounted by a white shawl with zigzag folds; the fabric is adorned with swastikas and is bordered with a meander. The shoulders of the woman are also covered with a small cloak that is placed over her head like a veil. The rich adornment includes a semicircular diadem decorated with a garland of leaves and a fine necklace with pendants.
Unfortunately, no element enables us to identify the woman with a precise mythological figure. She differs, by her static attitude and by her typology, from the images of maenads, which are a leitmotiv in contemporary Etruscan architectural terracotta. It is tempting to think here of a deity (Turan, the Etruscan Venus?), but the question remains entirely open.
In the framework of contemporary figural antefixes (which generally represent a group composed of a maenad and a satyr dancing, or even mythological creatures like the harpies or beings provided with a fishtail), the present iconography is quite rare. The modeling and the style of the carving, however, have many parallels in the Italic world (cf. temples at Satricum, Falerii Veteres, Lanuvium, Veii, Caere, Rome, etc.). This regular presence of similar artistic features in the most important urban centers led M. Sprenger and G. Bartoloni to suggest that the coroplasts (craftsmen that produced terracotta pieces) were itinerant artisans, just as the architects probably were, who moved between various projects with their molds ready for use.
CRISTOFANI M., Civiltà degli Etruschi, Milano, 1985, pp. 267-268, no. 10.13 (temple at Satricum).
GIGLIOLI G.Q., L’arte etrusca, Milan, 1935, pl. 182 ff.
SPRENGER M. and BARTOLONI G., Die Etrusker: Kunst und Geschichte, Munich, 1977, p. 123, nos. 137-138 (temple at Falerii Veteres).
TRUE M. and HAMMA K. (eds.), A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, Malibu, 1994, pp. 195-197, no. 92.