Magna Graecia, South Italy, Tarantum, ca. 5th c. BCE. A mold-made ornamental element for the roof of a temple presenting a relief of a female face with almond-shaped eyes beneath arched brows, a prominent nose, and heart-shaped lips, this striking visage magically emerging from an acanthus leaf. Her flowing tresses suggest that this figure may represent a Maenad (Bacchante) - literally the "raving ones", these purportedly wild women accompanied Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry. Custom stand. Size: 6.5" W x 9.25" H (16.5 cm x 23.5 cm); 11.5" H (29.2 cm) on stand
Roof tiles that ran along the eaves of ancient Greek and Etruscan buildings often ended in upright, painted, mold-made terracotta members called antefixes which usually took the form of either human or mythological heads. These antefixes had three functions. First, they concealed the termini of convex tiles and thus protected them from bad weather. In addition, they were part of the architectural decoration. Finally, these visages were believed to possess an apotropaic role, fending off evil and bad luck from temples.
Note: a Roman terracotta antefix that depicts an acanthus leaf only (no human or mythological face) sold for $4,000 at Christie's New York (4 June 2015, Sale 3748, lot 82). Keep in mind that our example was created in the Greek colony of Tarentum several centuries earlier and features an attractive female visage as well as an acanthus leaf.
Provenance: Ex-private New York collection, ex-private Connecticut collection
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