Unearthing and Recreating Votive Figures

by Vanessa Rivera-Herrera, AD&A Museum Intern

Votive Figures

These small figures, called votives, were commonly used in rituals involving the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. Ancient Greeks would bring them to temples, shrines, and tombs as a way to appease the gods. In fact, shrines were thought to have been built just to house relics like these. In addition to being a gift for the gods, they were made to strengthen relationships between people and gods in anticipation of a favor or to give thanks.

Terracotta female figure, seated
Seated Goddess, 3rd C. BC, terracotta, 7 x 3.5 in, AD&A Museum Art Collection

The seated figure in the image is titled the Seated Goddess and is from around the 3rd century B.C.E. She was found in Greece out of terracotta clay and stands seven inches long. Her attributes feature a robe, a crown, and an archaic smile. This smile was a mark of healthiness and well-being. The robe is adorned with symbols on her robe, which may represent what goddess she is. She is seated on a stylized throne, which was typical of the time.

Here are other examples of Greek seated female votive figures found from 3rd-5th century B.C.E. 

They were widely produced, often mold-made, from a mold like the one below. The mold made them easier to replicate and shortened the time spent designing each statue. As a result of the mold, the statues were hollow on the inside. The process of creating these votive figures was intricate, yet necessary for these religious rituals.

Figurine mold (possibly Demeter), 3rd Century BC, plaster, 12.7cm x 6.1cm, The Louvre, Paris

Creating Ancient Greek Pottery

Pottery was prevalent in Greek life, as they used it in everyday life and in religious ceremonies.

The pottery process, like the one used to create the votive statues, started out with collecting clay from river beds. This clay was stomped on, or thrown to remove air bubbles so that the clay wouldn’t break at the end of its baking process. Then, the clay was molded into the desired shape. Applying slip to decorate the clay was optional, but widely used for black and red figure pottery. After the piece was dried, then one would put it in a hot fire kiln, reaching temperatures of 900°C (1652°F).

Here is a video detailing the full process of creating pottery using ancient Greek methods.

Re-discovering Painted Pottery

Up until recent times, these clay-made antiquities were accepted as unpainted and without decoration. Some statues were even cleaned to remove any previous pigments. These once-vibrant pigments were re-discovered by archaeologists and art historians who realized that the color could be identified and reimagined. If some pigments are too small to see, surgical microscopes are used to pinpoint the exact colors. By revealing certain colors, historians are able to recreate what the statues might have looked like back in ancient times.

The Phrasikleia Kore, 6th C. BC, and her reconstruction Courtesy Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung

Coloring Activity Here is an additional activity where you recreate the seated goddess in your own way. The template is blank, so you will need to color in the ideal colors you think she was painted in. Print out the papercraft, color it in, then cut it out and build it into your own seated goddess. Download the PDF and follow the directions. Here is a completed version.

This blog post was developed and written by Vanessa Rivera-Herrera, AD&A Museum Intern, 2021–22. To learn more about the Art, Design & Architecture Museum Internship Program, please visit: https://museum.ucsb.edu/learn/internship

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: