: Greek-Hellenistic
: 1st century B.C.
: Bronze
: Height: 28.4 cm

Ex- Dr. Lévy private collection, Switzerland, collected before 1980.


This beautiful statuette represents a standing woman with a well-proportioned and elegant body.  There is no doubt as to the identity of her person: the presence of the aegis and, in a more discreet touch, the peplos left open along the right side indicates clearly that this is Athena (Minerva for the Romans), the goddess of wisdom and of artists, who was the principal divinity of many Greek cities.

She rests the weight of her body on her right leg, while the left is slightly bent (only the tip of the left foot touches the ground).  The right arm was entirely separated from the body (there is no visible tenon), but the position of the shoulder indicates that it should be lower.  The left arm is bent and the forearm is turned towards the spectator; the hand, which is actually half-opened, most likely held an attribute, the exact nature of which we do not know.  If the fingers were just a bit more closed, one could think that the goddess held a lance or a pitcher (oinochoe), which are among the most commonly attested attributes for Athena. There are no clues that could inform us of the position of the head, but the regularity of the fracture of the neck does not seem to indicate any sharp movements or postures: it is probable that the young woman held her head straight or slightly inclined and/or turned to one side or the other.

The back of the statuette slopes gently backwards; seen in profile, this position creates a smooth arc that the contour of the peplos, pushed towards the back by Athena’s left foot, completes at the lower part of the body. The young woman is clothed in a long peplos that reaches down to her feet, that presents an ample fold (kolpos) that covers the entire torso up to the waist.  This garment – which is tightened across the chest by means of a drawstring but is completely open along the right side – was pinned up with fibulae on the shoulders.   The chest, the shoulders and the upper back are covered by an aegis (the skin from a goat that fed Zeus, Athena’s father) in two panels: these are sculpted in a very classical fashion with large, smooth scales, serpents with raised, triangular heads and the Gorgoneion (the head of Medusa, the Gorgon beheaded by Perseus, who then offered it to Athena, his protector).  On her feet, the woman wears thick-soled sandals.

Contrary to many other bronze figures, this piece is of excellent artistic and technical quality.  The technique used for its casting is called lost wax technique.  The statuette is entirely hollow (including the arms); its body consists of three elements soldered or fitted together: the top part (up to the chest), the central part (that of the kolpos) and the lower part, which was connected to the bottom of the kolpos.  The join between the two top parts is hidden by the drawstring.   The head (between the shoulders, near the edge of the aegis, one can see a thin band of metal where the neck was soldered to the bust), the arms and some of the most voluminous folds (for example the large, very high relief fold between the legs) were also made separately and then attached to the body.

Stylistically, this piece is a very refined bronze work: the elongated proportions are reinforced by the numerous vertical pleats of the peplos, the rhythm of which is uniquely interrupted by a few horizontal axes (the lower hem of the kolpos, the cord) and some more rounded folds.  The posture, with the curve of the spine sloping backwards and the right hip slightly raised and in front of the left gives the statuette a certain sensuality, which is reinforced by the smooth skin of the arms and the nearly transparent rendering of the fabric on the thigh and on the left knee.

There exist a significant number of ancient statues that reproduce this divinity, as she was one of the most frequently seen throughout the Greek world.  Among the most famous examples, one can cite, among others, the Athena of Myron, the Athena Parthenos, the Athena Ince or the bronze Athena of Piraeus; with some variations, all of these examples reproduce the same position of the legs (the right supporting the body; the left a bit back, slightly bent).

During the Hellenistic Period, and throughout the Roman, the sculptors created many eclectic images of the goddess, juxtaposing elements from different types.  It is not always easy to trace a figure back to an already determined prototype. The statuette in question belongs to a series of representations of Athena that archaeologists have attributed to a Hellenistic original which is known through bronze copies, often of modest quality, and also through some copies in marble that are slightly under life size.  Although none of these replicas are actually complete, it remains very probable that the prototype held a lance in her left hand and had her right hand resting on her hip.  In addition, a shield was posed near the left leg.  The copy of the best quality was found at Cyrene, but presents a small aegis worn across the shoulder and she does not have a shield.The comparison between this bronze figurine and the works in the group mentioned shows that the basic structure is similar: one finds the elongated proportions, the same sensuality, the same position of the torso, the arms and the legs as well as the same clothing (a peplos worn open on the right with a long kolpos).  But it is also necessary to point out the numerous elements that are different, for example the position of the left arm (which is much further back on the small bronze), the absence of any traces of the right hand on the side and of the shield on the left leg, the details of the folds of the peplos which do not follow a single design. The dating of the prototype is generally fixed towards the end of the Hellenistic Period, while the copy from Cyrene is dated to the 1st century A.D.  

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