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Work Model boat with figures

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Model of figures in a boat

© 2010 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Iselin Claire

Representations of boats appear in Cyprus towards the end of the Early Bronze Age (2300-2000 BC). The figures and the bird that appear on this model boat in painted terra-cotta have suggested a number of different interpretations ranging from the realistic, through the cultic, to the mythical. Dating from the Middle Bronze Age, this is an example of so-called White Painted ware, in which the pottery is covered with a white slip on which the decoration is applied in brown.

A maritime scene

The boat has a bulging oval hull, the raised prow and stern being indicated by round, tapering projections. On the rim, pierced with a hole in the middle of each side, are eight half-length figures in different poses, together with a bird. One figure holds its hand to its head, another has its hands on its hips, while a couple hug each other. All have slender bodies, small pinched noses, two holes for the eyes, and an incised mouth. They wear earrings, and all except one have a conical headdress adorned with circlets. These figures are decorated with horizontal bands, while the hull has a criss-cross pattern below and alternating bands of diagonals above. Painted pottery is the distinctive feature of Middle Bronze Age Cypriot civilization. The holes in this piece were probably to allow it to be hung up.

Various possible interpretations

This boat belongs to the Cypriot tradition of terra-cotta models representing shrines, other buildings, and boats, as well as groups of figurines such as the Group of Figures at a Washing Trough or the Group with Vessels. The depiction of pottery animal and human figures in the round is also characteristic of Cyprus. For some scholars, the presence of the bird - considered an attribute of the Cypriot great goddess of fertility - and the pose of the figure with a hand held to the forehead - interpreted as a gesture of adoration - suggest a religious significance. For others, the piece may represent a mythical scene comparable to the abduction of Helen. On the other hand, it may simply represent a scene from everyday maritime life.

Testimony to Cyprus's maritime trade

These boat models appear in Cyprus towards the end of the Early Bronze Age, as for example the terra-cotta ship in the Louvre (AO 17521). This impressive iconographic series continues into the Iron Age (AM 636). The images very likely testify to the regular maritime trade associated with the great cities and the production of metal.


Caubet Annie, Karageorghis Vasos, Yon Marguerite (sous la dir. de),
Les Antiquités de Chypre : âge du bronze, musée du Louvre, département des Antiquités orientales, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1981, coll. "Notes et documents des musées de France, 2", p. 25, CKY 41.
Caubet Annie, Hermary Antoine, Karageorghis Vasos (sous la dir. de),
Art antique de Chypre au musée du Louvre : du chalcolithique à l'époque romaine, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1992, Athènes, Kapon, 1992, n 20.
Caubet Annie, Fournier Sabine, Queyrel Anne (sous la dir. de),
L'Art des modeleurs d'argile : antiquités de Chypre, coroplastique,
musée du Louvre, département des Antiquités orientales, vol. 1, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1998, n 31.
Morris D., The art of the ancient Cyprus, with a check-list of the author's collection, Oxford, Phaidon Press, 1985, pp. 287-288, fig. 504.
Westerberg Karin, Cypriote ships from the Bronze age to c. 500 B.C., Göteborg, P. Åström, 1983, coll. "Studies in Mediterranean archaeology", 22, p. 76, fig. 1.

Technical description

  • Model of figures in a boat

    Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BC)

  • Modelled ceramic with painted decoration (White Painted II)

    H. 16.70 cm; L. 26 cm; W. 14 cm

  • Acquired by Z. Malis, 1902 , 1902

    AM 972

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Room 300
    Display case 2: The Early and Middle Bronze Ages. Clay work: pottery and terracotta

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