Terracotta jointed "doll"

Period: Classical

Date: 5th century B.C.

Culture: Greek, Corinthian

Medium: Terracotta

Dimensions: H. 4 3/4 in. (12 cm)

Classification: Terracottas

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1944

Accession Number: 44.11.8


This figurine belongs to a group that appeared in mainland Greece in the late sixth century B.C. It represents a girl wearing a short chiton, commonly called a chitoniskos; on her head is a kalathos, a boxlike headdress; her hair falls to the shoulders. This particular statuette stands out because of the well-preserved painted decoration. The hair, eyes, and eyebrows are painted black; the short chiton is elaborately decorated with red bands filled with short dashes, chevrons, and zigzags.
The figurine is mold-made–only the front is sculpted; the back is simply left flat. The articulated arms and legs are handmade and may originally have been attached to the body with metal pins. With its movable legs, this figurine obviously cannot stand or sit, it can only lay flat on its back. What, then, was the reason for jointed limbs? The answer is revealed by a hole on top of the head–this figurine was intended to be suspended, thus the articulated limbs could move freely.
This type of figurine is commonly referred to as a "doll,'' a term that implies its function was merely to amuse children. Recent scholarship, however, has questioned this rather simplistic interpretation. These figurines are too fragile to have been play things. Moreover, they are frequently found in sanctuaries where they were brought as votive gifts to the gods. The fact that they were deposited in the graves of both children and adults also strengthens the argument that they were not toys.
Occasionally these figurines are represented with crotala (castanets) in their hands, an attribute that identifies them as dancers. The kalathos, a headdress that they usually wear, helps to identify them as ritual dancers. It is well known that song and dance were common features of Greek worship. In fact, several ancient authors refer to a specific dance, called kalathiskos, that was performed by young girls wearing short chitons and kalathoi.