Rider on horseback

A sculptural composition of a rider on horseback. Both figures have been modelled from terracotta in simple geometric forms.

Riders like this one are often known as “monkey-horsemen”. Their legs are not represented and the arms stretch out to connect with a painted line which represents the reins. In this case the left hand is holding the horse while the right one is raised. One could imagine that the rider was about to throw a spear in battle. The face has a long nose, two circular eyes in relief and a thick beard. The head is covered by a funnel-shaped headdress.

We see the horse in a static pose with a cylindrical body and arched neck. Two unusually large circular eyes in relief and two long ears extending backward are behind the muzzle. The horse would seem to have a thick mane. The tail, which is out of proportion, extends backward in a conical arch. The animal is missing any decoration although there are the remains in some zones of dark brown colouring. This would lead us to suspect that it was completely painted after being modelled. Most similar examples are decorated with painted lines which function as ornamental motifs as well as giving indications of the anatomy of the animal.

These figures, which show a Corinthian influence particularly in the shape of the rider, are contemporaneous with the flat female figurines known as “pappades” which were found in funerary contexts.

The Boecian tradition to use the horse as an iconographic motif in the making of terracotta figures goes back at least to the 7th Century, with the production of polychrome horses with matt finish or entirely glazed. Examples where legless riders seem to be “fused” with the back of the horse are the last ones to be documented. Their production ceased soon after 550 BC.


- Greece in the Archaic Period. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Copenhague. 1994.
- BESQUES S. Catalogue raisonné des figurines et reliefs en terre-cuite grecs, étrusques et romains, Vol. I, Epoques préhellénique, géométrique, archaïque et classique. Paris. 1954.
- HIGGINS R. Catalogue of the Terracottas in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities. British Museum. London. 1954.
- OSTERGAARD J.S. Terracotta Horses and Horsemen of Archaic Beotia in Acta Hyperborea 3. 1991.
- SZABO M. Archaic Terracottas of Beotia. Rome. 1994.

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