Cypriot Terracotta Standing Goddess
Near Eastern · Late Bronze Age (ca. 1450 - 1200 B.C.).
H: 18.5 cm
The terracotta is of light beige color. Like other statuettes of the same type and of comparable size, it seems hollow. An ancient label reads “Excavations of Curium, Cyprus”.
It represents a standing, nude woman. whose rather squat proportions still recall those of the steatopygic women from the Neolithic period, specially because of the hips broad contour and of the generous buttocks. The simple forms, which are a typical feature of the figurine, attract the eye of the modern spectator without interfering with the immediate understanding of the subject and of all details.
Her lightly naive shapes are dominated by linear and geometric elements: the neck and the head are straight, the body and legs are formed by two opposite cones, the arms are tubular and arch-shaped, the pubis is indicated by triangular incisions, the breasts are two small modeled buttons. The anatomical details are added to the face without real formal unity and in a somewhat unrealistic manner: the circular eyes, the big half-circular ears, the large aquiline nose; the mouth is not marked.
The two rings inserted in the ears and the horizontal lines engraved on the neck are elements of the adornment, and would indicate that the woman is not an ordinary figure (a deity, a priestess, a woman of high social rank?). She holds in her arms a barely modeled silhouette which certainly represents a child feeding at her right breast.
As it is often the case with prehistoric statuettes, the sexual and fecundity aspects are strongly emphasized: the feeding breast, surrounded by the arms and hands, the wide hips and the disproportionately large pubic triangle, enable us to confidently relate this figure to images of fertility deities which were largely widespread in the Near East and in the Mediterranean basin.
On the island of Cyprus, which for the Classical Greeks was the birthplace of Aphrodite – their goddess of love and fertility – the tradition of statuettes representing the great goddess of fecundity can be traced back to the late Neolithic at least: such “idols” have also been excavated in many sites (for instance, in the region of Paphos, where Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea) and survived more or less steadily and following different influences (Anatolian, Near Eastern, Aegean), until the late Bronze Age.
This figurine is a beautiful example of Cypriot sculpture from the late Bronze Age: it can be connected with a group of pieces whose typology is well attested and which seems, according to V. Karageorghis, to have been influenced by Syrian sculptors, and indirectly by Mesopotamian models. The mechanical and coarse workmanship of these terracottas, as well as their distribution, suggest that these images were intended to be given to deities by a large audience and are, to us, an important testimony of the popular piety of the period.
Aside from a few chips, the statuette is complete and almost intact; only the tip of the feet is lost.
Art market, prior to 1899;
Ex Louis-Gabriel Bellon (1819 ?-1899) Collection, France.
KARAGEORGHIS V., Ancient Art from Cyprus, The Cesnola Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2000, pp. 23-25, n. 10, 15.
On the Mother Goddess cults in Cyprus, see:
KARAGEORGHIS J. and V., La Grande Madre e la nascita di Afrodite, in LIGABUE G. (ed.), Dea madre, Milan, 2006, pp. 73-83.