The Grotesque in the Hellenistic Ceroplastics

Khodza Elena N.

Ceroplastics of the Hellenistic period, especially of its latest part, shows an unprecedented trend towards the grotesque. On the one hand, it continues to exploit traditional subjects. Still popular are the themes of pygmies fighting with cranes, figures of professional sportsmen with their physical disharmony and spiritual deficiency, ugly and ridiculous traits of women's old age and of comic characters. On the other hand, in the Hellenistic ceroplastics the grotesque genre acquires its specificity, inherited by the Roman art. Its essence can be defined by the term of «pathological grotesque». The series of figures with an ugly appearance, which, according to Aristoteles' Physiognomica, could reflect their moral meanness, now begin to include humpbacks, dwarfs and cripples affected with explicit mental and physical degradation. The author analyses fourteen terracotta figures from the Hemitage manufactured in Asia Minor and Alexandria. Some of them have never been published before, publications of the rest of them were only superficial or must be brought up-to-date. Two terracotta heads are of the Roman period, but represent a direct development of the late Hellenistic tradition. In some cases one may suppose that the characters are actors, participants of a mime, a well-liked genre of the Hellenistic period. The grotesque terracotta figurines, which were extremely popular as one may conclude from the hundreds of copies we have at our disposal, were often used as amulets, e.g. protecting from diseases (their typical symptoms being rendered with utter naturalism). These objects are even more indicative of the changes in world outlook and taste than monumental sculpture.