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Work Gaia with Cupids

Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Deux Amours présentant le buste de Gê (la Terre) dans une couronne

© 1988 RMN / Béatrice Hatala

Egyptian Antiquities
Christian Egypt (fourth - twelfth centuries AD)

Lyon-Caen Christiane

This bas-relief was no doubt a lintel adorning a building which is unknown to us. A richly-adorned female bust is framed by a heavy plant wreath upheld by two winged Cupids. The attributes of the central figure - a plant headdress, a bouquet of fruit and foliage, and baskets overflowing with the fruits of the earth - suggest a representation of Gaia, the Greek earth goddess. Coptic art perpetuated the memory of the Hellenistic past.

Portrait of a goddess with cupids

The center of the lintel features a female bust inside a heavy plant wreath (whose bay leaves are dotted with holes). This allegory of the fertile Earth - the goddess Gaia, who originated in the distant Greek past - is given an impression of richness and abundance by the opulent breasts, thick curly hair, luxuriant modius headdress (made of plants), tunic with large folds, and heavy veil (upheld in her right hand). The two Cupids holding this wreath also evoke opulence with their thickly feathered wings and the heavy cloaks that fly out behind their strong, plump bodies. The sculptor filled the remaining space with two baskets, overflowing with (unidentifiable) fruits of the earth.

Between East and West, paganism and Christianity

The lack of any blank space in this work creates an almost suffocating impression of density, making it a perfect illustration of what historians term "horror vacui" - fear of emptiness, characteristic of the art of Late Antiquity in the Romanized East. The impression of oriental influence in this illustration of characters from Greek mythology is heightened by the detailed relief and use of the trepan. The Greek gods who followed in the wake of Alexander the Great were readily adopted in Egypt. Cultured Egyptians, who knew of their adventures thanks to the writings of Greek and Latin authors, naturally used them as a major source of inspiration. This attachment to the Hellenistic world persisted even after Egypt was converted to Christianity. Whether due to pagan resistance or artistic traditionalism, many Greco-Roman themes persisted during the Christian era - such as these Cupids, Aphrodite's descendants, who became angels.

Technical description

  • Deux Amours présentant le buste de Gê (la Terre) dans une couronne

    Ve - VIe siècle après J.-C.

  • calcaire

    H. 35 cm; L. 92 cm; Th. 8.5 cm

  • E 16967

  • Egyptian Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Gallery of Coptic art
    Room 173
    Vitrine M5 : La terre et les saisons

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