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Figurine of a seated woman pressing her breasts

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Michel Urtado

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Caubet Annie

This statuette represents a woman holding her breasts as if to express milk into the large basin she holds between her legs. Typical of the Chalcolithic Period in Cyprus, this is a fertility symbol often associated with the bull, symbol of virility. The beliefs with which they were associated survived on the island until the advent of Christianity.

A woman squeezing her breasts

This statuette shows a naked woman, seated, whose outstretched legs hold a large circular basin. With her hands she squeezes her breasts as if to express the milk to be collected in the vessel beneath. The head, slightly thrown back, has a thick disc of clay applied to the crown to represent the hair, which falls down on either side to frame the forehead. The face is triangular, the eyes represented by the impress of a fingernail, giving them a half-closed look; the nose, small and pinched, has small holes for the nostrils, the tiny mouth is incised. The body is thickset, with a cylindrical trunk; the arms are made with rolls of clay tapering towards the hands. The triangular breasts stand out from the body and are covered with incised scratches that are perhaps intended to represent tattoos or scarifications. The legs are short and cylindrical, the toes indicated by incised marks. When compared with other statuettes from the Maroni region, details such as the tattooed breasts and the rendering of the eyes allow the figurine to be dated to the Chalcolithic period.

A fertility symbol

The Chalcolithic period is characterized in Cyprus by an architecture of circular houses, the development of painted pottery, and the appearance of the first "fertility symbols" succeeding the asexual figures of the earlier Neolithic period. The western part of the island in particular has yielded several types of statuette in stone or modeled clay. The stone statuettes represent a naked woman, standing, with triangular breasts; cruciform figurines in steatite combine an anthropomorphic body with a phallic head; clay figurines come in a variety of forms. Deserving of particular mention is an extraordinary group showing a woman giving birth accompanied by a relatively primitive male image in stone, both found inside a vessel in the form of a circular house: these would appear to be associated with practices related to sexuality, birth, and lactation.

The goddess and the bull

Classical tradition identifies the island of Cyprus as the birthplace of Aphrodite/Venus. The power of female fertility had been venerated there for centuries, generally associated with the forces of virility embodied in images of bulls, stags, or rams. It was only in the late 2nd millennium - no doubt under the influence of new arrivals from Greece - that the worship of new gods, later identified as Zeus and Apollo, was introduced alongside the cult of the old pair of goddess and bull, which remained generally predominant until the advent of Christianity. This primordial couple is not exclusive to Cyprus but there takes on a specific form at the hands of local artists. From the Balkans to the Indus, from Spain to Mesopotamia, from the Mediterranean to Central Asia, the people of the earliest village communities acknowledged these male and female powers, giving them expression in modest forms of stone or clay.

Technical description

  • Figurine of a seated woman pressing her breasts

    Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BC)

    Region of Alaminos

  • Incised, red terracotta

    H. 12 cm; W. 6.10 cm; D. 8.60 cm

  • Couchoud expedition, 1903

    AM 1176

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant
    Room A
    Display case 1: The Chalcolithic period

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