The term includes all objects made of fired clay; commonly, pots and household vessels are treated separately. Modellers were originally potters; later they were specialists who occasionally inscribed workshop or personal names. Earlier terracottas were modelled free‐hand; after the 6th cent. bc they were usually made in moulds. Decoration at first resembled that of pots; from the 6th cent. figurative work was covered with a white slip and details painted. The status of terracotta was low. Apollonius 4 of Tyana preferred ‘to find an image of gold and ivory in a small shrine, than a big shrine with nothing but a rubbishy terracotta thing in it’.
Terracotta was used for: sarcophagi, ash‐urns, altars, incense‐burners, and roofing. Revetment that protected woodwork adorned all buildings in Archaic times; metal and stone have usually been robbed, but clay being intrinsically valueless has often survived. Roof tiles were commonly of terracotta. Ornamental elements were decorated with geometric and floral designs. In Italy and Sicily esp., architectural sculpture was made in terracotta. Large tiles were employed in Roman heating systems (see baths) to support the floor and to permit hot air to circulate through walls.
Large representational terracottas were sometimes made in Greece as votives (Olympia); in Etruria (see etruscans) they were common. The Etruscan repertory was largely religious, but also included sarcophagi with life‐size figures reclining on the lid. In Sicily large busts of the Eleusinian deities were favoured. Small‐scale representational terracottas—masks, reliefs, and figurines—were made as votives for sanctuaries, graves, and house‐shrines. Female figures, numerous horses and riders characterize the terracottas of the late iron age. In the 7th cent. orientalizing types, masks, and horses were made in Cyprus, Rhodes, and Crete, and later all over the classical world. Local production centres developed, esp. in Asia Minor, Boeotia, Corinth, Laconia, Argos, Magna Graecia, and Etruria. In the 4th cent. the craft flourished, esp. in Athens and Boeotia (Tanagra). The repertory contained few religious types (Aphrodite and Eros), and many of theatrical genre (actors and comic figures). Cemeteries near Tanagra supplied so many charming figures in the 1870s that Greek figurines became a craze in Europe under the name ‘Tanagras’. During the 3rd cent. these types spread everywhere.
Subjects: Classical Studies.