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Chapiteau sculpté : sur une ombelle de papyrus une tête hathorique est surmontée d'un naïskos abritant un uræus

© 2007 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Benoît Nicolas

Artistic relations had existed between Cyprus and Egypt since the Late Bronze Age but underwent a renewal during the Archaic period. Dating from the mid-6th century BC, this capital carved with the image of the goddess Hathor, the oldest of a large number found in various regions of Cyprus, illustrates the ability of Cypriot artists to adapt Egyptian iconography to local beliefs and canons.

An elaborately decorated capital

Discovered in the old town of Larnaca in 1885 and acquired by the Louvre two years later, this capital is the second of the series of great Hathor capitals found in Cyprus. It is characteristic of this series in being made up of three double-sided blocks. The head of the goddess, dressed in a wig that scrolls down on either side of the face, rests on a papyrus flower itself decorated with pointed leaves and lotus buds. On top of the wig, on the front, is a "naiskos," or small temple, in whose door is an uraeus (the sacred cobra on the crowns of Egyptian pharaohs), the temple being flanked by scrolling stems from which spring more papyrus flowers. On the back is a "tree of life" surmounted by a scrolled volute on which stand two sphinxes back-to-back. All these elements confer a resolutely Egyptian character on the capital.

An Egyptian model

Egyptian influence on Cyprus had been strong since the Late Bronze Age and was especially evident in the production of small objects. The Egyptian manner, however, enjoyed a brilliant revival in the Archaic period as a consequence of the Saite domination of the island, but also thanks to the great success enjoyed there, as elsewhere, by the cult of Hathor. The 6th century sees the appearance of numerous works with likenesses of the goddess; the Hathor capitals, and more particularly this example from Larnaca, dating from around 550 BC, are the earliest examples. This type of representation of Hathor derives from an Egyptian tradition going back to the Middle Kingdom; it is found in the form of the sistrum, a musical instrument specific to the cult of the goddess, and on the facades of temples dedicated to her, as can be seen on the "naiskos" of this capital from Larnaca. It is impossible to say whether it was the sistrum or the capitals that directly influenced the Cypriot artists. Cypriot examples do, however, differ from the Egyptian model, in which the goddess's head rests on a pectoral, not on an umbel. The cow's ears or horns characteristic of the Egyptian goddess are absent from images found in Cyprus, in which, moreover, the face is treated in the Ionian manner.

Adaptation and appropriation

It now seems almost certain that this capital comes from a shrine in Kition, the Phoenician city that occupied the site of present-day Larnaca, where there has been discovered a series of small tablets, dating to the late 6th century, showing the same capital in miniature. In addition, a painted vase of the same period now at the Louvre (AM 393) shows a sacrifice being offered to a similar Hathor capital resting on the ground. The absence of mortar or any other sign of incorporation in a building confirms the suggestion of the vase: the capital was not used as an architectural element but as a stela symbolizing the divine presence, a focus of cultic activity. The Kition sanctuary then housed the Phoenician goddess Astarte, and other Hathor capitals have been found at the Temple of Aphrodite at Amathus. As the absence of bovine attributes does not strictly allow the goddess represented to be identified as the Egyptian goddess Hathor, it would seem likely that her iconographic type was adapted and put to the service of the great goddess in her Phoenician or Greco-Cypriot form.

Bibliography

Caubet Annie, "Héraclès ou Hathor", Revue du Louvre, n 1, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1973, pp. 1-6.
Caubet Annie, Pic Marielle, "Un culte hathorique à Kition-Bamboula", Archéologie au Levant : Recueil à la mémoire de Roger Saidah, Lyon, Maison de l'Orient ancien, Série archéologique, 9, 1982, pp. 237-250.
Caubet Annie, Hermary Antoine, Catalogue des Antiquités du musée
du Louvre : sculptures, musée du Louvre, département des Antiquités orientales, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, p. 396, n 807.
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, pp. 130-131, n 160.
Hermary Antoine, Amathonte V, Les figurines en terre cuite archaïques
et classiques. Les sculptures en pierre, coll. "Études Chypriotes XV", Athènes, École française d'Athènes, Paris, De Boccard, 2000,
pp. 144-149.

Technical description

  • Chapiteau sculpté : sur une ombelle de papyrus une tête hathorique est surmontée d'un naïskos abritant un uræus

    Chypro-archaïque II (milieu Ve siècle avant J.-C.)

  • Calcaire

    H. : 1,33 m. ; L. : 0,74 m. ; Pr. : 0,37 m.

  • Mission Duthoit, 1865 , 1865

    AM 93

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant: Cyprus, 9th–1st century BC
    Room 316

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