Statuette de Cybele / Tyche
Period: 1st century A.D.
Material: Banded Agate
Dimensions: H: 12.0 cm
Ex collection Jean-Louis Durant, 1960; Dr. Jean Lauffenburger, 1980.
This figure is perfectly preserved. The surface of the stone retains its original high polish and has small bits of incrustation in places.
Sculptures in bronze and marble are among the most well-known artistic legacies of Greece and Rome, but ancient artists also produced works in other materials such as terracotta, glass, ivory, silver, gold, and rare or semi-precious stone. Some artists possessed the remarkable skills needed to transform hard stone into miniature sculptures worthy of comparison with the finest works in bronze and marble. This extraordinary and rare figure of Cybele/Tyche stands out as just such a masterwork, even when considered among the small number of banded agate statuettes known to us. The perfectly preserved figure is finely made, the agate being skillfully cut and fully carved in the round in spite of its size and the difficulty of sculpting such stone. Modeling is accentuated and varied by light passing through the stone and reflecting from the polished surface, raising some parts in relief as it lowers others in shadow. The flowing drapery is translucent, which imparts an ethereal, otherworldly aspect to the goddess. Rendered by the nature of the stone, the semi-transparency of the drapery effectively conveys the impression that her clothing is made of finely woven cloth. The surface of the stone retains its original high polish and has small bits of incrustation in places.
The crowned goddess is clothed in a chiton belted at the waist, as seen from behind. Her wavy locks of hair are parted in the middle above the forehead and are gathered into a bun at the back of the head, where her himation is drawn up over it. The himation drapes her in voluminous folds, which envelop her body beneath it in a rich arrangement of swags and flowing cloth. She sits upon a heavily draped and highly ornamented backless throne embellished at the front with the foreparts of lions flanking both sides; the drapery on the proper right side of the throne ends in tassels. Leaning forward, the goddess lifts up her right hand, which held an attribute, likely a sheaf or sheaves of wheat. She supports her left side with her hand extending to the back corner of the throne. Her left leg, heavily draped by the himation, is bent beneath her right leg, which extends forward with the edge of the drapery drawn back to reveal her sandaled foot resting upon a footstool with lions-paw feet.
Like counterparts in gold, silver, and other precious materials, gemstone statuettes could be considered luxuria, luxury items. In a domestic setting, albeit for a very wealthy private home, this statuette could have functioned as a cult object in a lararium, a household shrine, or, in a public setting, the statuette may have been a dedication in a sanctuary to honor the cult of the goddess. As with this figure of Cybele/Tyche, the goddess Cybele is generally represented as flanked by lions and seated upon a throne while wearing the turreted mural crown that represents a walled city. This figure of Cybele/Tyche additionally takes almost the exact pose of the famous Tyche of Antioch, which shows a crowned and heavily draped Tyche seated with her left arm and hand extended back and her right arm and hand held forward, and a similar arrangement of the lower body with the bent left leg enveloped by drapery and the right leg and foot extended outward. Small scale replicas of the Tyche of Antioch approximate the famous early Hellenistic statuary group sculpted ca. 300 B.C. by Eutychides of Sikyon after the establishment of Antioch (Pausanias, 6.2.6). The sculpture of Eutychides functioned as a personification of the goddess but also as a cult statue, which protected the city of Antioch and presided over its destiny. This statuette of Cybele/Tyche is a conflation of the two goddess types. Tyches are not only synonomous with the city of Antioch, but the famous Tyche of Antioch was imitated as a Tyche of other cities. This seems to accommodate a Hellenistic invention of offering Tyche to be transformed into a city goddess for newly founded cities in the Hellenistic east, and the Tyche type is combined with many different goddesses and attributes depending on where it was created. As an essential feature of pagan cults in the Roman imperial period, syncretism, the union of different principles, made Tyche a perfect catalyst for various kinds of divine identifications and combinations.
The relative scarcity of agate and other stone statuettes is owed in part to the difficulty of cutting, grinding, and polishing complete figures from hard stone, which presented challenges beyond those faced in making figures of other materials. While the Pliny remarks in his Natural History that gem-cutters used tools tipped with diamond chips for cutting the hardest stones, these would not have been needed for working agate. A bow-driven cutting wheel was probably used to block out the figures, and a drill to pierce the spaces between the limbs. Fine abrasives, particularly emery or “Naxian stone”, were employed in conjunction with the cutting wheel and for subsequent grinding and polishing. The degree of detail on this figure of Cybele/Tyche is remarkable, since there is no evidence that ancient artisans used any type of magnifying lenses.
J. Odgen, Ancient Jewelry (Berkeley, 1992), 19-20, for ancient carving techniques.
Pliny, Natural History 37.11-118, for commentary on gemstones and stone statuettes.
S. Matheson, The Goddess Tyche, in An Obsession with Fortune: Tyche in Greek and Roman Art, (ed. S. Matheson), Exh. cat. (New Haven 1994), 19-33.
P. Broucke, Tyche and the Fortune of Cities in the Greek and Roman World, in An Obsession with Fortune: Tyche in Greek and Roman Art, (ed. S. Matheson), Exh. cat. (New Haven 1994), 40.
C. Kondoleon, Antioch: The Lost Ancient City (Princeton 2000), 116-17, nos. 1-4, for the Tyche of Antioch, Tyche of Constantinople, Tyche of Alexandria, and Tyche of Rome; 118-120, nos. 6 and 8, for the Tyche of Antioch.
F. Heintz, Tyche of Antioch, in L. Becher and C. Kondoleon, The Arts of Antioch: Art Historical and Scientific Approaches to Roman Mosaics and a Catalogue of the Worcester Art Museum Antioch Collection (Worcester 2005), 244-246, no. 10.
C. Vermeule, The Sculptures of Roman Syria, in C. Kondoleon, Antioch: The Lost Ancient City (Princeton 2000), 101-02.
For Tyche: Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Tyche, vol. 8, 115-25, pls. 85-89.
For Antiocheia, city goddess of Antioch on the Orontes, and the Tyche of Antioch type: Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Antiocheia, vol. 1, 840-85, pls. 668-77.
T. Dohrn, Die Tyche von Antiochia (Berlin 1960).
E. Reeder, Hellenistic Art in the Walters Art Gallery (Baltimore 1988), 100-101, no. 24, for a marble statuette of a seated Muse of Urania type: a similar seated figure on a fourth century Attic grave relief indicates that this Muse type had a late Classical prototype from which the Tyche of Antioch is also surely derived. For the grave relief, see H. Diepolder, Die attischen Grabreliefs (Berlin 1931), 55, fig. 12 and Dohrn, 42, pl. 35.1.
J. Padgett, A Agate Statuette of Herakles, in Record of the Art Museum 54:1 (Princeton, 1995), 3-22, where a list of statuettes of agate or semi-precious stone are noted.