Cypriote Ceramic Standing Female
Period: Late Bronze Age (circa 1450-1200 B.C.)
Material: Greek Ceramic
Dimensions: H: 21.6 cm
Price: CHF 48'000
Ex-Alfred E. Mirsky collection (1900-1974), sold to the profit of Rockefeller University, New York, USA.
The statuette is whole but was reassembled; the beige terracotta features areas of brown paint on the neck (a necklace), on the head (eyes and hair) and probably on the pubis. The navel is pierced by a circular hole which served as a blowhole during the firing process: the body of the statuette is hollow but the legs are solid.
It represents a woman with thin and slender proportions, standing vertically on tiptoe. Her simple shape is dominated by geometric figures: the triangular head, the cylindrical neck, the arc-shaped arms, the triangular pubis, the conical legs, the hemispherical breasts. Even on the head, the anatomical details are added to the face without a real stylistic unity and in a somewhat unrealistic manner: the circular eyes, the pointed ears, the aquiline nose, the arched eyebrows, the deeply incised mouth and nostrils. This artistic naiveté, one of the figure’s morphological characteristics, probably attracts the eye of the modern spectator, without impeding the immediate understanding of the subject and all its details. As often is the case with prehistoric statuettes, the sexual aspect is strongly emphasized: the breast, highlighted by the position of the arms and hands that surround it, the wide hips, the well-marked navel and mostly the exaggerated proportions of the pubic triangle , allow us to link this figure without any hesitation to the images of fertility deities largely widespread in the Near East and the Mediterranean basin from the Neolithic period onward.
On the island of Cyprus, which for the Greeks of the Classical Period was the birthplace of Aphrodite – the goddess of love and fertility – the tradition of statuettes representing the great goddess of fecundity can be traced back to the late Neolithic (similar idols were also excavated in the region of Paphos, precisely where Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea) and had survived, more or less uninterrupted and following different influences (Anatolian, Near Eastern, Aegean), until the end of the Bronze Age.
This figurine can be related to a group of pieces whose typology is well established and which seems, according to V. Karageorghis, to have been influenced by Mycenaean sculptors, a noticeable feature being the expression of the face. Cypriot terracottas of that period (which corresponds to Late Helladic III or Mycenaean on the Greek mainland) are characterized by a large typological variety, since, in addition to these women standing on tiptoe, there are also seated statuettes (the seat, represented by one or two simple tenons, is fixed behind the buttocks), images of mothers holding a child in their arms, as well as animals.
KARAGEORGHIS V., Ancient Art from Cyprus, The Cesnola Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2000, pp. 23-25, n. 10, 15.
KARAGEORGHIS V., Ancient Cypriot Art in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Athens, 2004, pp. 80-81, n. 147.
KARAGEORGHIS V., The Civilisation of Prehistoric Cyprus, Athens, 1974, pp. 192-192, n. 156-158.
On the cults of the Mother Goddess in Cyprus, see:
KARAGEORGHIS J. et V., La Grande Madre e la nascita di Afrodite, in LIGABUE G. (ed.), Dea madre, Milan, 2006, pp. 73-83.