Antefix with the image of the nymph Io

A terracotta antefix decorated with an image of the nymph, Io. This is modelled in high relief and stands out both for the detail and its quality. The serene face is framed by waving, curly hair. As is usual with profiles of Io, she is depicted with a heifer’s horns high on her forehead. She is wearing two large earrings each made up of a circular element with an inverted cone below. A necklace in the form of round beads encircles her neck. This adornment, together with the earrings, decorate an idealized face.

An antefix (from the Latin antefigere, to fasten before) is an architectonic ornament, a vertical block which terminates the covering tiles of a tiled roof. In grand buildings, the face of each stone antefix was richly carved, often with a palmette motif. In lesser buildings, moulded ceramic antefixes, usually of polychrome terracotta, might be decorated with figures or masks. This is the case with Etruscan buildings, which were often constructed from perishable materials. During the early 5th century BC, the female face began to break free of Archaic conventions and Ionian models under the influence of Athenian creations.

During the Archaic period, the workshops at Caere (modern Cerveteri) in southern Etruria produced many architectural terracottas (friezes, covering plaques, acroteria, and antefixes) designed to decorate sacred buildings. Etruscan temples were largely built from perishable materials: wood, bricks, or blocks of tuff for the superstructure; stone for the base. Antefixes had three functions. Placed on the eaves of the roof, they concealed the ends of the convex tiles and protected them from bad weather. They were also part of the architectural decoration. Finally, they had an apotropaic role, banishing bad luck and bad influences from temples.

Io, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of Inachus (the river god and first king of Argos) and the nymph Melia. Io was a priestess of Hera, the wife of Zeus. Zeus fell love with her and brought her to him, filling the sky with clouds so thick that the other gods could not see what they were doing. Hera immediately suspected something, but before she could reach them, Zeus changed her into a white heifer to protect her from the wrath of Hera. The latter did not know what Zeus was doing with this beast, so to avoid suspicion, Zeus gave the heifer to her. Hera still did not trust her husband and sent Argus, the giant with 100 eyes, to watch her. Zeus thereupon sent the god Hermes, who lulled Argus to sleep and killed him. Hera then sent a gadfly to torment Io, who therefore wandered all over the earth, crossed the Ionian Sea, swam the strait that was thereafter known as the Bosporus, and at last reached Egypt, where she was restored to her original form and gave birth to Epaphus.

Io was identified with the Egyptian goddess Isis, and Epaphus with Apis, the sacred bull. Epaphus was said to have been carried off by order of Hera to Byblos in Syria, where he was found again by Io. This part of the legend connects Io with the Syrian goddess Astarte. Both the Egyptian and the Syrian parts, in fact, reflect interchange with the East and the identification of foreign with Greek gods.


- Antefix with the image of Io. Terracotta. Greek, Apulia. British Museum, London. United Kingdom. Inventory number 1884,1011.7.
- Antefix with the image of Io. Terracotta. Greek Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. Hungary. Inventory number T.91.

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