Coroplasts from Tanagra (part 1)
The Greek words “tanagra”, “tanagryanka” entered the Russian language about a hundred years ago. They are used today to denote everything fragile, feminine and plastic. The artist V. Serov invented on their basis his term “tanagretika”, meaning by it artless, elegant, the opposite of the cold and rational in art.
The ancient city of Tanagra in Boeotia, in the northeast of the Balkan Peninsula, has gained wide popularity in modern times due to archaeological sensation – the finds of Tanagra figurines.
In 1870, learning about the ancient figures that were found during plowing by the peasants of the Boeotian villages near Tanagra, the treasure seeker Georgis Anifantis arrives here from the island of Corfu. Prior to this, locals usually found rude clay figures of the archaic era. Anifantis immediately managed to open part of the necropolis of the ancient city of the time of Alexander the Great. The clay figurines found by him in the graves were distinguished by grace and had a delicate coloring. An example of the “old Georgis”, enriched by the sale of finds to buyers of antiquities, forced the peasants to abandon agricultural work and set about searching for ancient graves. All the fields in the vicinity soon turned out to be dug, and the rumor of elegant Tanagra statuettes quickly spread among lovers of antiquities in Europe and America. The Athenian Archaeological Society tried to ban the illegal excavation of the necropolis of Tanagra, but this proved futile. Society in 1873 sent the archaeologist Stamatakis there under the protection of a company of soldiers. He managed to collect beautiful samples of Tanagryan for the Athens Museum, but at the same time he had to state that the necropolis of the ancient city was exhausted and completely died for science.
Tanagryanki continued to cause general admiration. At the world exhibition in 1876, Boeotian clay figures exhibited in the Parisian palace season. Prices for them reached fabulous amounts, dexterous falsifiers of antiquities appeared, which established the industry of manufacturing fakes. The largest museums in the world were in a hurry to acquire collections of figurines. Their rivalry in those years led to the creation of illustrious gatherings in London, Paris, Athens.
It so happened that the Hermitage became the owner of a unique collection of figurines from Tanagra. In 1870-1879, the Russian ambassador to Greece was Count P. A. Saburov, a passionate and tireless collector of antiquities. During the “Tanagra boom,” he composed a valuable collection of Tanagrians. The most prominent archaeologist of the era A. Furtwängler in 1880 began publishing the catalog “Collections of Saburov”, which contributed to the European fame of the collection.
In the spring of 1884, Saburov, at that time acting Russian ambassador in Berlin, wrote a letter to another prominent Russian collector, Secretary of State A. A. Polovtsov: “My dear friend … since I managed to free myself from part of the collection (marbles and vases) , I still have the most valuable part (terracotta), which I agree with museums in London and Berlin on the condition of giving preference to the Hermitage. No museum has such a collection. I’m ready to give her up for 100,000 rubles … and everyone who knows the present real value of these Tanagra terracottas will find the conditions most moderate. ”