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Plaque

© 2004 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Caubet Annie

A few tombs in Ugarit that have survived intact have given up a rich hoard of jewelry. This gold pendant, representing the nude figure of the great goddess of fertility, was part of a necklace consisting of several pieces of gold leaf and carnelian beads.

A powerful image of female nudity

The pendant is made of an ovoid piece of gold leaf. The artist obtained the figure in relief by stamping the thin sheet of gold leaf or applying it over a carved relief made of a more solid material. The figure represents a nude goddess seen face-on, with her arms bent on either side of her chest. The hands are at shoulder height and probably originally held an emblem of some kind, possibly snakes, which would explain the bulge round the edge of the piece. The figure is short and stocky. The face is oversized in relation to the rest of the body, which is compact in comparison. The waist is immediately beneath the breasts. Beneath the navel and a fold in the belly, the pudendum is framed by very large, round thighs.

Jewelry rich in symbolism

This pendant is among the most complex designs of all the gold jewelry found in Ugarit. All are decorated with symbolic motifs linked to the worship of a great goddess of fertility. This goddess sometimes appeared in human form, as here, where she is depicted with the heavy headdress of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, with curls winding round the neck. She is shown standing on a crescent in reference to her astral nature. Other pieces of jewelry show just her face, breasts, and a triangle representing her pudendum, with the rest of the body not shown at all. Sometimes, just the head - which is given particular prominence in this piece - is shown, not unlike the other feminine accoutrements decorated with the face of the goddess in human form. Numerous medallions in the shape of a disk decorated with small circles or stars also refer to the astral character of the goddess. This astral aspect was also later a characteristic of the Roman goddess Venus, who was both the goddess of love and the morning star.

Imagery and mythology

The excavations at Ugarit have revealed many cuneiform texts describing rituals and recounting myths. The tale of Baal, the god of storms and of vegetation, who died and came back to life, is told on a series of tablets which frequently refer to the goddess Anat, Baal's sister and lover. Like the Egyptian goddess Isis seeking out the scattered limbs of Osiris to bring him back to life, Anat brings Baal back to life after he is killed by the scorching heat of the summer. Other goddesses also feature in the tales. The jewelry of Ugarit gives us a precious glimpse into this complex mythology that we still know very little about.

Bibliography

Schaeffer Claude, "La troisième campagne de fouilles à Ras-Schamra", Syria, vol. XIII, 1932, p. 8.

Technical description

  • Plaque

    Thirteenth century BC

    Minet el Beida, port of Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra), Syria

    The Levant

  • Gold, embossed gold leaf

    H. 9.2 cm; W. 3.7 cm

  • Allocated to the Louvre after the Claude Schaeffer excavation, 1931

    Nude goddess standing on a crescent

    AO 14716

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant: coastal Syria, Ugarit, and Byblos
    Room B

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