Terracotta female protome, found in a tomb, Macri Langoni,  525-500 BC. Archaeological Museum of Rhodes. Image: Wikimedia Commons

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from Antiquity

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January 3, 2015


Reviews of Book-Length Publications on Coroplastic Topics

Professors Maya B. Muratov (Adelphi University, mmuratov@adelphi.edu) and Ioannis Mylonopoulos (Columbia University, jm3193@columbia.edu) are the current book review editors for the CSIG.

Bookidis, Nancy
The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Terracotta Sculpture

(Corinth 18.5). Pp. vii + 315, figs. 19, b&w pls. 126, color pls. 8, tables 5. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Princeton 2010. $150. ISBN 978-0-87661-185-2.

Reviewed by Jaimee P. Uhlenbrock, State University of New York, New Paltz (uhlenbrj@newpaltz.edu)

Between 1961 and 1975 excavations carried out at the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore in ancient Corinth brought to light some 944 fragments of large-scale, hand-modeled, terracotta sculptures. To this corpus can be added well over 400 more fragments of large-scale, clay sculptures that have been recovered from the Forum area in Corinth and from the Asklepieion, as well as fragments of other terracotta sculptures found outside of Corinth but attributed to Corinthian workshops. Collectively, this material documents a vigorous local tradition based on the production of nearly life-size votives in clay that lasted nearly 5 centuries, from the late 7th to at least the early 3rd century B.C. While research on the robust terracotta industry of Corinth has been fairly extensive and has resulted in a relatively well-known set of parameters by which the mold-made, terracotta figurines from Corinth can be recognized and interpreted, Corinth as a production center for large-scale sculpture in clay has been little known substantially until the appearance of this volume.  Moreover, the author tells us that these fragments represent the most extensive corpus of Greek sculpture for Corinth, which has produced relatively little free-standing sculpture in stone. She also notes that they comprise one of the largest assemblages of terracotta sculpture known from any Greek site documenting a continuous history of large-scale coroplastic production that covers almost 5 centuries.

While these noteworthy assertions are well documented by the material at hand, they are all the more noteworthy in the face of the very incomplete nature of the evidence that sometimes requires leaps of faith in accepting the reconstructions the author proposes for a number of the statues to which these fragments belong.  These reconstructions are based on a number of factors, including the scale of the fragments, their wall thicknesses, their clay color, surface, and composition, the modeling technique they exhibit, and sponge marks or fingerprints they may preserve. Yet Bookidis’s reconstructions appear probable, if not correct, an accomplishment that illustrates her meticulous consideration of all aspects of the associated fragments.

When discussing the sculptures to which groups of fragments collectively have been assigned Bookidis refers to them as statues, a term that no doubt is carefully chosen to stress the difference between this type of coroplastic output and that of smaller, mass-produced figurines. These latter certainly fall under the rubric of sculpture, but cannot be considered statues. In the author’s view the word statue confers a degree of monumentality on the work that is evident even when the greater majority of the clay statues under consideration are 3/4 life size or smaller. Merker (Corinth XVIII-IV The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. Terracotta Figurines of the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Periods [Princeton 2000] 46) prefers the term statuette for the large, handmade pieces in her corpus, which she also relates to monumental sculpture both in conception and style. It is odd that Bookidis neglects to include the examples Merker discusses in her own review of finds of large-scale terracotta sculpture from various contexts in Corinth (2), particularly since Merker notes that in the Middle Hellenistic period there was an increase in, if not, prevalence for, coroplastic work in large scale, as documented by the figurines from the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore (257).

This study is organized into 8 chapters beginning with an introduction that orients the reader to the types of sculpture found, the methodology used in the study, the contexts from which the fragments were recovered, evidence for the placement within the sanctuary of the statues to which these fragments belonged, chronological considerations, and remarks on scale, clay colors, and terminology. Of particular importance in this chapter is the author’s discussion of scale as it outlines the means by which she determined the general height and relative proportions of given statues. The determination of scale is a critical tool since this facilitates the reconstruction of the statues when, in most cases, only a few, non-joining fragments survive.

Chapter Two comprises a detailed review of the techniques used in the creation of large-scale, free-standing statues at Corinth. Bookidis notes that rather than being static, as was once believed, experimentation and modification marked the development of the craft of modeling large-scale sculptures in clay. A survey of the research conducted on the techniques used in the production of these sculptures begins this chapter and illustrates the need for further attention to this aspect of the coroplast’s craft. The very fragmentary condition of the evidence from Corinth enabled a detailed study of interiors of the sculptures, thus providing clear evidence for the successive stages in their production. For example, Bookidis concludes that they were modeled from the ground up, a conclusion that appears counterintuitive to this reviewer, but one that is clearly documented by the fragments (48). Other informative aspects of this chapter detail the use and character of interior struts, the development of modeling processes, surface finish, kilns and workshops, among other considerations.

Chapters 3 through 7 comprise the Catalogue, which is organized into chronological sections, within which the entries are arranged according to typology. Clear and highly detailed descriptions of the fragments that comprise a given statue are followed by lengthy discussions, where possible, of the iconography, style, and date of the statue. The exacting descriptions are particularly helpful since many of these fragments have the appearance of oversized breadcrumbs and are difficult to understand when just looking at the illustrations. This aspect of this material renders all the more remarkable Bookidis’s ability to add to the picture of a monumental sculptural aesthetic for Corinth in the Hellenistic period, in particular, especially when documentation from sculpture in stone is extremely meager. In the discussion that follows each catalogue entry Bookidis carefully reviews the criteria for dating the statues, which she admits are very problematic given the lack of appropriate comparanda. Reliance on large-scale Etruscan sculpture in terracotta or Attic sculpture in bronze and marble provides general chronological guidelines.


Within the Catalogue of 156 entries, the categories are rather limited and restricted to standing draped males, standing nude males referred to as youths, standing females, children, including types of the so-called temple boy, and a head identified as belonging to a herm. Ninety-nine statues are identified as standing males, while only three represent females, of which two are peplophoroi. The earliest of the large-scale dedications at the Sanctuary is a head of the late 7th century, represented by a section of its left side, while other fragments of similar and slightly later date confirm the practice of large-scale dedications in terracotta. Among these is a fragment of a female figure with pronounced breasts dated to the later 6th century for which kourotrophic associations have been suggested. Of similar date is Statue 8, the earliest identifiable example of a standing, male figure wearing a diagonal himation that reaches to his feet, the most prevalent iconographic scheme for large-scale terracotta dedications throughout the history of the Sanctuary.

Where the evidence permits, Bookidis provides reconstructions of given sculptures by placing fragments in appropriate places on a schematic drawing. Several reconstructions stand out by virtue of their better state of preservation, their iconography, or the gender they represent. Of these, Statue 15 is one of the better preserved and carries the iconographic scheme of the draped male figure into the beginning of the 5th century. Its reconstruction is based on 10 mostly non-joining, and often very small, fragments that only in the most general of outlines can suggest the male figure illustrated by figure 9 of the Catalogue. Critical in the dating of this statue are two fragments of drapery preserving the fine, parallel folds seen in sculptural developments of the late 6th to early 5th centuries, while two fragments of the right side of the head present features of a hairstyle that are paralleled on a standing youth in the cat-and-dog base from the Themistoklean wall, an anchor for the chronology of sculpture of the late Archaic period.

Statue 41, a standing, draped male holding an animal, possibly a hare, is the most complete and one of the few statues in this corpus with a preserved head. Bookidis comments on the simplicity of the statue and the heavy contours of the face, features that one could use to support a date of the mid-5th century. However, more important she feels are the similarities in the contour of the head to heads in Attic sculpture dated by Evelyn Harrison around 420 B.C. This contour and a particular rendering of the area around the nose and mouth Bookidis believes are particularly close to those features in a bronze head of a Nike from the Athenian Agora that Harrison has associated with the style of Pheidias. Yet Bookidis is quick to dismiss any idea of Attic, or specifically Pheidian, influence at Corinth. She suggests instead that the stylistic elements common to both the Corinth head and the Athenian Nike “may have been more widespread at this time,” (156) a statement that this reviewer feels needs more clarification.

Statue 29 deviates from the dominant trend for draped males and appears to document a standing peplophoros, one of two in large scale that can be documented at the Sanctuary. Surviving are 6 fragments of drapery and a fragment preserving the crown of the head. Of the drapery fragments the most telling is the one that preserves a small section of the kolpos of a peplos, evidence that renders inescapable the identification of this statue as female. Statue 71 also is interpreted to represent a peplophoros, but one who wears her garment unbelted. Bookidis observes that the unbelted peplos is difficult to find in Attic monumental sculpture, suggesting that it may belong more properly within the Peloponnesian orbit. At Corinth parallels for the unbelted peplos are easily found among the Classical figurines from the Sanctuary and, in particular, in two fine examples in statuette scale.

Two sculptures from this corpus stand out from the rest because they were mold made rather than hand modeled. The first, represented primarily by the face fragment 27, is attributed to a male figure since a slight trace of red color can be seen around the right nostril. Moreover, one of several associated fragments of drapery is believed be part of a himation, a garment that Bookidis sees as distinctly male attire for the earlier 5th century, the period to which this face fragment has been assigned. However, the modeling of the hair as thick, overlapping, zig-zag waves articulated into full heavy masses that fall low over the temples is unmistakably female in character. In this reviewer’s opinion, the identification of a himation is also questionable. But if the red color on the face does indeed indicate that the complete sculpture represented a male figure, then the face must have been taken from some convenient female prototype.

The second of these sculptures comprises a strange male head and neck, originally gilded, that is said to have been made in a two-part mold and that has been interpreted as belonging to a herm. It is clear from the vague facial features that they were produced from a mold belonging to a very late stage in the derivative production of its prototype. While the face is not discussed by Bookidis, its features are legible enough so that their relationship to something like the large mask of Dionysos from the Sanctuary should be worth considering (Merker C273). The placement of the facial features of the herm and their relationship to one another are so close to those aspects of the Dionysos mask that some kind of connection might be explored profitably. This is not to suggest that the herm represents Dionysos, but rather that the prototype from which the face of the herm was derived reflects the same sculptural impulses that were behind the creation of the mask.

In fact, Merker (65) has commented on the curious disconnect between the iconographic and stylistic evidence presented by the terracotta figurines from the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore and that of the terracotta sculpture under consideration, and Bookidis may not have seen the need to reexamine this issue. Indeed it has been stressed that mass-produced coroplastic manufacture followed a different tradition from that of terracotta sculpture. But for this reviewer the possibility of some overarching stylistic thread that could run through both traditions during the Hellenistic period might be more evident were the terracotta sculptures not so fragmentary. For example, most striking to this reviewer’s eye is a treatment of the hair among some of the Hellenistic figurines (Merker H7, H19, H20, H180, H181) where coarse slashes and grooves result in heavy, stringy locks that occasionally overpower the face, as also can be seen in Bookidis’s fragments 116a and 117c.   

Chapter 8 focuses on the interpretation of these sculptures as dedications at the Sanctuary and their relation to the cult of Demeter and Kore, a topic that is fraught with difficulty and uncertainties. The difficulty concerns the very fragmentary and sporadic nature of the evidence that limits interpretation. For example, even though most of the standing figures are interpreted to be male, in all but two cases it is impossible to know the age they represent and therefore they cannot be placed into any category. Further, in this reviewer’s opinion, the isolation of some of the fragments of drapery or anatomy renders it difficult, if not impossible, to recognize definitively if the figure was even male or female.

The overwhelming preponderance of confirmed male imagery among the large-scale terracotta sculptures at the Sanctuary is also difficult to interpret since the Sanctuary was dedicated to Demeter and Kore. A very late source even refers to Demeter at Corinth as Epoikidia, or “of the household,” an epithet that would appear to mitigate a male component. But more importantly, the dominance of these statues of males relative to those of females completely contradicts the evidence provided by the mold-made figurines and other minor objects from the Sanctuary, which are predominantly female in character.  Bookidis points out that male imagery is a minor phenomenon at best in sanctuaries around the Greek world dedicated to Demeter and Kore. Yet Merker believed that the Dionysiac imagery evident among the figurines provides strong evidence for the presence of a cult of Dionysos within the Sanctuary by the 4th century, an argument that could be extended to explain the presence of the large-scale male statues. However, Bookidis reminds us that the large-scale, standing male figure had been dedicated in the Sanctuary as early as the third quarter of the 6th century and in its most popular form, that of the standing draped male, it continued to be dedicated well into the 4th century. It cannot be confirmed that the type had any specific reference to Dionysos.

Bookidis also faces uncertainties when discussing the significance of representations of youths, if it can be confirmed that a youthful image is indeed the subject, rather than an image of a mature male. Dedications in the Sanctuary of a small number of figurines of the 4th century that represent nude, or nearly nude, youths are interpreted by Merker as offerings in celebration of victories in foot races. But Bookidis feels that even if that were the case for the figurines and, by extension also for the statues of nude males, she does not believe that the draped male would have been considered an appropriate reference to an athletic competition. Bookidis also questions attempts to explain the presence of statues of youthful males in the Sanctuary in relation to maturation rites. While she reminds us that at least one of the male figures under discussion is holding a small animal and others possibly astragaloi or an aryballos, it cannot be proven that these statues are youthful representations. Nor is there any other form of documentation for maturation rituals at Corinth at all, much less maturation rituals held in relation to Demeter and Kore.

All of these uncertainties leads Bookidis to conclude sensibly that one interpretation cannot be applied globally to all of the statues and that at the present state of the evidence unambiguous interpretations are not within reach for any of them. In her view, the only definitive outcome that is evident is that the statues themselves, as well as their numbers, document a distinctly Corinthian phenomenon since parallels are not forthcoming at other sites or in the existing sources. But, in the opinion of this reviewer, the initial impetus responsible for the appearance of this phenomenon sometime after the middle of the 6th century and the motivation for its continuity into the 3rd century B.C. still requires thoughtful consideration. Interpretations of iconography certainly are critical for our understanding of the relationship of a work of art to aspects of its cultural environment at a moment in history, but they do little to explain why and how did the idea of creating a monumental clay sculpture come into being in the first place. Why did a donor ask for, or need, an impressive image to dedicate in the sanctuary? The large scale of these sculptures, costly and time-consuming to produce, surely indicated wealth on the part of the donor and therefore status and privilege in a public setting. There must have been a reason or reasons why male self-representation, regardless of meaning, became so important in the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore.

This review is an expanded version of a review that originally appeared in January 2012 in AJA Online (http://www.ajaonline.org/online-review-book/1047)

Jaimee P. Uhlenbrock
Art History Department
State University of New York, New Paltz
New Paltz, NY 12561




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