©J. Paul Getty Trust
Causey, Faya. Cat. 1, Pendant: Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos), Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Ed. Faya Causey. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu. Web. 7 December 2019.
Cat. 1, Pendant: Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos)
Height: 130 mm; width: 45 mm; depth: 18 mm; Diameter of suspension holes: 2.5 mm; Weight: 55.2 g
Height: 130 mm; width: 45 mm; depth: 18 mm
Diameter of suspension holes: 2.5 mm
Weight: 55.2 g
The pendant is intact and in good condition. There is a long, curved fissure in the lower right section of the larger figure’s heavy cloak, extending to the base. There are numerous minute chips on the child’s head and on the adult’s nose, chin, and the left side of the neck and along the cloak’s left shoulder. There is an old chip on the tip of the hat. A pattern of minute cracking extends over the surface of the entire piece. There are inclusions at the hem on the right side, at the right elbow, at the top of the child’s head, and scattered throughout the adult’s body. The pendant’s patina varies from yellow-ocher to brown. In ambient light, the amber is reddish brown, and in transmitted light, translucent and ruby-red.
The two figures form a compact composition. The physiognomy, pose, gestures, dress, and relative scale of the figures suggest that the larger figure is a woman and the smaller figure is a child. The woman wears a long, heavy cloak and a conical hat and is shod in close-fitting boots. The raised area at the collarbone suggests the presence of a close-fitting undergarment. Although there is no sign of the undergarment’s hems or selvage edges, it is probably a long, close-fitting, unbelted chiton. Bunched cloth at the top of the cloak forms a kind of collar at the back of the neck and around the shoulders. Engraved vertical lines extend from the lower edge of the sleeve slits to the hem. On the left side, the cloak hem falls to the ankles, just above the small feet, and on the right, to ground level. The two front edges of the cloak join low on the chest at the woman’s solar plexus. Her open right hand is placed at this junction. Her somewhat bulbous conical hat stands high off her head. The hat’s rim is rounded and protruding; it is engraved with short diagonal striations, creating a design resembling cable molding. On the proper left side of the hat, a graved line, interpreted here as a seam, runs from the apex to the rim.
The woman’s left forearm emerges from the cloak as it encircles the upper body of the child; her left hand lies flat on the child’s upper arm. The upright, frontally and rigidly posed child tilts back toward the body of the woman. From the back, it appears that the child is under the mantle of the adult. The child wears a miniature version of the adult’s garments, but the hood/collar section of the mantle is pulled over the head. The mantle fits snugly around the brow, curves behind the right ear, and drapes forward over the shoulder and chest before extending to the ankles. The tiny shod feet are set side by side and jut straight outward. Below them is a spur of amber. The child, too, appears to wear a long chiton.
The woman’s head is large, full, and round, and her neck thick, short, and cylindrical. The child’s neck is characteristically short, and the head is a smaller, more delicate, and slightly more schematic version of the adult’s. No hair is visible on either figure. Both the woman’s and the child’s eyes are blank, almond-shaped bosses, turned up slightly at the outer canthi (the right eye of each is slanted more sharply upward at the outer canthus than are the left eyes), and are surmounted by an eyebrow ridge that moves smoothly from the temples over the orbits. The eyes of both figures, set between a bulging brow and cheeks, are almost as big in profile as in full face, but the child’s eyes are less richly modeled than the woman’s, and the line separating the eye from the brow is longer. Both figures’ brows are low and flat. The noses are short, smooth, and triangular, and the bar-shaped mouths are formed as horizontal protrusions. The chins are wide. Both figures have round, flat ears with an opening at the position of the tragus. The woman’s ears are placed close to the hat rim. The child’s right ear, a flatter version of the woman’s, is far back on the head.
The tilt of the woman’s head, the illogical location of her feet, the scale of the figures, the child’s placement, and the concave depression on the lower part of the woman all suggest that the sculptural configuration is dependent on the amber blank’s original shape.
In addition to the engraved grooves and lines, some traces of abrasion are visible on the woman’s neck and in the depression of the lower right section of the heavy cloak. Two perforations form a V-shaped suspension system, each extending from a hole drilled at the shoulder and meeting just below the position of the woman’s right wrist. The amber may have been strung with one carrier forming a loop. Alternatively, if there were two filaments, each could have been knotted at the point below the woman’s right wrist. In either case, the figures would have stood upright when suspended.
77.AO.84 and 77.AO.85 belong to the category of divinities known as child-carriers, or kourotrophoi, and are composed in the side-by-side pose exclusive to heroes and divinities, a schema of great antiquity.
For the style and the forms, the principal amber comparisons for 77.AO.84 are a pendant in London of two standing figures and a group of four Etruscan amber pendants in Philadelphia, perhaps excavated at Ascoli Piceno. One of the latter pendants, MS 2536, a fragmentary standing woman, is the single best parallel for 77.AO.84 in style and physical type.
The physiognomies of the women and children of 77.AO.84, 77.AO.85, and the relevant Philadelphia pendant are characteristic of Orientalizing Etruscan sculpture. They all have long, almond-shaped eyes, named the Blind Eye by Emeline Richardson. In common with the Etruscan votive bronzes that Richardson groups together as Orientalizing Early Etruscan Ladies, the Getty Museum six and their amber comparanda exhibit the same solid, rounded Assyrian forms; in Richardson’s words, “the convex surfaces of the ‘Assyrian’ tradition as well as its convention of a fully draped figure and some of its massive quality.” The ambers, like the Ladies, were likely carved in northern Etruria. An excellent comparison for 77.AO.84 in the Ladies group is the small votive bronze of a woman in London (British Museum 1907.3–11.1), which Richardson points out is the earliest shoe-wearer and is closer to the “Assyrian” aesthetic than any other. She dates this figure to the end of the seventh century.
While Volterra may have been the center of such production, specific details of dress and style among the ambers also draw them close to Chiusi. One example is a bronze in Leiden (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden H3 ZZZZ 1), said to have come from Montalcino (in the ancient Chiusine territory).
A large bronze from Brolio, which should be considered Chiusine, is another excellent parallel. The bronzes and ambers reveal several similarities, including a geometric structuring of the figures, their proportions—especially the smallness of the hands and feet in relation to the rest of the body—and the form of the faces, fingers, and thumbs.
Each of the constituent parts of the dress worn by the woman of 77.AO.84—long chiton, cloak, boots, and hat—are Etruscan. Larissa Bonfante refers to the mantle, similar to those worn by 77.AO.84 and 77.AO.85, as a kind of cape “raincoat.” Richardson describes it as a distinctly Etruscan garment, names it the Heavy Cloak, and underlines its dependence on masculine Near Eastern models.
The carver of 77.AO.84 indicated the important sartorial details of the Heavy Cloak, which must be based on an understanding of the actual garment. The collar/hood section of the cloak is formed by bunched fabric. The child’s cloak is drawn over its head, so no collar is formed. The line that extends from just below the armhole to the hem may represent a seam joining the garment’s front and back sections, but more likely it indicates the meeting or overlap of the selvages.
Under the cloak, the large 77.AO.84 figure wears a long chiton. Both male and female figures wear the “the Oriental, clinging, unbelted tunic,” as Sybille Haynes describes it. At the Archaic Building Complex at Poggio Civitate, tunic-wearers animate the terracotta frieze plaques, and two—one passenger in the two-wheeled cart (perhaps a woman) and the woman seated on the curved throne in the assembly of seated figures—also wear an enveloping cloak.
The tall hat of 77.AO.84 is distinct in its slightly bulging conical shape, in the manner in which it is worn (toward the front of the head and concealing all hair, front and back), and in its construction. Despite its simple form, the carver articulates specific details of its structure: the egglike bugle, the seam line on the front, the tiny dimple at the apex, and the rounded, upturned brim with diagonal striations. The form of the brim and the seam line indicate that the hat is of leather, skin (fur side inward), or leather lined with fur, and not of felt; the horizontal line likely indicates an upturn, and the diagonal lines, the whipstitching.
It is rare to find representations of Etruscans wearing pointed hats before about the mid-sixth century, but afterward, various kinds of conical hats—originally a male fashion in the Near East—appear everywhere, in innumerable variations of type, size, and even number worn at the same time. Conical hats were a female fashion in Etruria. (They are related to but not identical with the pointed hat worn only by haruspices.) The hat of 77.AO.84 stands out as unusual within the repertoire of Etruscan pointed headgear and dates to the moment just before the fashion took off in Etruria. The combination of its bulbous shape, construction, and placement on the head sets it apart from later-fashionable types. The Oriental masculine contemporary parallels include the hats of “Asian” figures represented in Egyptian relief sculpture, as well as the hats worn by some Cypriot priests and some divinities on Phoenician engraved gems. Antecedents are found in Hittite and other North Syrian sculpture. The bulbous shape is like that of the traditional crown of Upper Egypt. Oriental precedents for female figures wearing cone-shaped hats are few but significant, and among them are an image of a Hittite goddess in a pointed hat on a silver rhyton and the hats of Near Eastern lamassu, the beneficent protective female deities first seen in the Neo-Sumerian period. Contemporary and just slightly earlier Greek parallels for females wearing this distinctive hat type are to be found in Magna Graecia and Laconia. Many of the sixth-century terracottas of Artemis excavated at the Metapontine spring sanctuary of San Biagio wear nearly identical hats. As Gesche Olbrich has argued, the San Biagio type is closely related to the Tarantine Artemis and Artemis Bendis types of terracottas; and the Artemis of the San Biagio sanctuary is closely related to the Laconian Artemis Orthia, who herself has important connections to the Near East and the Minoan-Mycenaean worlds.
Carved amber figures with pointed hats are few, and in each case, they differ from the type and personage of 77.AO.84. The female figure of the New York “Morgan Amber” (introduction, figure 24), the bow of a fibula, wears a hat with one seam near the midfront and a large, flat upturn. It is set back on the head, and the front of the hair shows. Two of the wingless flying figures from Sala Consilina in the Petit Palais are hatted. The bee divinity (perhaps Ideo with Zeus) sports a pointed, beanielike hat with six seams and a dog-toothed turnup; the vessel-carrier wears a swirl-wrapped hat with a simple upturn. Other amber figures in pointed hats include numerous female pendants (Etruscan and Italic, late sixth to early fourth centuries), but these usually display small, close-fitting, pointed caps, which are sometimes worn under veils and over garments.
Other important Etruscan parallels for the hat of 77.AO.84 are a unique pair of hats depicted in the Tomb of the Funeral Couch, where they are placed on an ornate bed, and the hats worn by certain bronze figures. Six Middle Archaic draped bronze female figures, four winged and two wingless, were part of a wheeled vehicle (a carpentum, or mule-drawn cart) found at Castel San Mariano near Corciano (Perugia). Another example is a Late Archaic bronze, a rare type of votive kore, from Volterra. The figure (she must be a divinity) on the apex of a large bronze kyathos handle from Bisenzio, of the late sixth century, holds a small raptor. She and the Potnia Theron of the bronze appliqué are the only ones to hold birds.
The hats of the four Middle Archaic winged bronzes (representing Turan, an unnamed divinity, or possibly a protective genius) and of the Volterran Late Archaic figure are more elaborate than that of 77.AO.84. Their head coverings are either wrappings of long ribbons of cloth or wrapped hats. The hats worn by the Middle Archaic bronze korai are the best parallels for the pitch of the hat, the form of the crown, the thick, rolled rim, and the lack of visible hair on 77.AO.84. In comparison, the cart attachments wear their hair long and unbound, and the Volterran figure wears hers tucked up inside the hat (it is just visible beneath the rim in front and back).
Although there are numerous illustrations in Etruscan art of women wearing tunics, heavy cloaks, or boots, there does not seem to be any other figure wearing this combination. The nearest relative is the uniquely dressed Etruscan votive bronze of a woman from Brolio in Florence (Museo Archeologico Nazionale 561), dating to the late sixth to early fifth centuries, already mentioned above for its Chiusine style. Instead of a tunic, Florence 561 wears an old-fashioned long Ionian chiton, along with boots, a pointed hat, and a cloak (which is pulled up over the hat). Florence 561 must represent a divinity.
Not only is the dress of 77.AO.84 unusual, so is its subject. There are only three other kourotrophoi of amber known to this author, and all are Etruscan. These include 77.AO.85 (cat. no. 2), a kourotrophos in a London private collection that must date to the mid-seventh century, and a tiny amber kourotrophos in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is strongly Ionian in style, very like a number of Chiusine bronzes, and of fifth-century date. Each of the four amber kourotrophoi holds the child on the left side; otherwise, they differ from one another in details of pose, dress, and style.
Kourotrophoi have an ancient history in and around the Mediterranean. Without other specific information, such as an inscription or burial context, the images of women, or nurses, holding children cannot be associated with any one divinity or function. 77.AO.84 may represent “any of the multifarious lists of mythical mothers and nurses who were so popular, and often venerated, in early Italy.” Although the amber figure’s hat brings the figure close to the Metapontine terracottas of Artemis with the pointed hat, there are no examples of the hatted variety as a kourotrophos. The child, who can be interpreted as standing upright, may specifically allude to the Greek Artemis. Artemis could cause deformities in children, particularly of the foot or leg; conversely, she could be called upon to protect the child from such deformities. That the child is held up and represented as well formed could be read as emphasizing the divinity’s protective role.
Alternatively, it is possible that the adult figure of 77.AO.84 represents a divinity similar to the Latin Mater Matuta. The solar aspects of amber would make it an attractive material for such an image. Matronae prayed to this goddess of light and childbirth and presented to her, not their own child, but their sisters.’ The exceptional figured ambers from (the priestess’s) Tomb VI at Satricum, where the Mater Matuta was worshiped, lend weight to this hypothesis.
Whatever the identity of 77.AO.84, her pose and the child are significant. Her right hand is placed on her breast, atop the cloak opening. The gesture of 77.AO.84 is the same one made by the two figures of 77.AO.81.1 (cat. no. 3) and perhaps by the adult figure of 77.AO.85 (cat. no. 2). It is of great antiquity and is found on many contemporary images, including a considerable number of Early Etruscan sculpted works. It has been variously read, resulting in correspondingly varying interpretations of the figures making it—and vice versa. The gesture makers have been identified as divinities, priestesses, votives, supplicants, adorants, adherents, and mourners. Although most scholars agree that the hand-on-breast gesture is Oriental in origin, there is less consensus about its meaning. It has been interpreted as a sign of thanksgiving (signifying gratitude to a deity for a favor conferred), as a sign of adoration or of offering, and as one of mourning. Some have seen it as one variant in a system of female gestures that call attention to the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics. In his discussion of the marble Dame d’Auxerre (Musée du Louvre), who also makes this gesture, Jean-Luc Martinez is cautious in assigning a precise signification, in particular a funerary one, to the sculpture.
For Etruscan sculpture in small and large scale, Bonfante regards the gesture as one of mourning. If the figures are indeed mourners, the gesture would support the thesis of a funerary role for the pendant. However, if the figures are ancestors (including heroes) or divinities, identifying the gesture as funerary is a less sustainable conclusion. Almost every known Etruscan figure making the “hand on breast with thumb up” gesture has come from a tomb, and it could be argued that some represent divinities. Notable examples are the seventh-century stone Figure A from Casale Marittimo; a number of early bucchero caryatid figures; the early-sixth-century bronze female divinity from the Vulcian Polledrara cemetery “Isis Tomb”; one of the limestone figures from the Pietrera tumulus; the woman atop the much-restored Chiusine “Paolozzi urn”; several of the stone female divinities from Chiusi; and a number of the Chiusine enthroned “canopus” figures of young men. Bonfante notes the pose of a figure on a gold plaque from Rhodes. A comparable right-hand gesture is made by some East Greek plastic vases in the form of a female bust; it is also made by some of the Artemis Metapontine terracotta figures from the San Biagio sanctuary, representations Gesche Olbrich considers to be of the goddess herself, not votives.
The pose of 77.AO.84—the position of the body, head, arms, and hands—gains from being read as one movement in a sequence “frozen” at its most characteristic point. This is the case with many Egyptian images, as R. H. Wilkinson explains: “Sequential gestures exist where a certain pose or gesture occurs within a sequence of continuous action.… The specific gesture usually illustrated was perhaps chosen because it represented the most important or recognizable part of [a complex] ceremony, but it must be remembered that gesture can only be understood in terms of the meaning of the larger ritual in which it was embedded.” If this is the case with 77.AO.84, then it may be that pose is one that incorporates a fertility gesture and is at the same time one of promise: The divinity avows the deceased the gift of rebirth, the activity of the left hand that of carrying the child and that of the right, avowal. That the object was ultimately funerary may have modified or even added to the pose’s meaning.
This glittering, large ornament was a potent amulet, the subject of which could place the wearer under the divinity’s protection. As such, it joins many of the earliest images of females in world art, which are small in scale and functioned magically, many as protection. Amulets in the form of a standing female figure, often suckling a child, were popular in Egypt as early as the New Kingdom. In the ancient Near East, amulets of seated female figures occur as early as the eighth millennium. A third-millennium fertility goddess from Cyprus wears a miniature of her own image.
The figural groups are all carved fully in the round and well secured by the system of attachment for suspension. Were the pendants intended to swing freely? Were they an attachment to clothing, a larger ornament, or even a structure? Were they used in life or only for the rituals of death, and thereafter in the tomb? Who made the ambers, following which models or according to which recipes?
Who placed them with the deceased? Whoever was buried with the ambers, and whoever saw to it that these ambers accompanied the deceased, must have had the appropriate knowledge and status. If the original owner was the deceased, might the owner have been a ritual political-religious specialist? Were 77.AO.84 and the other ambers part of her ceremonial properties? On the other hand, might these fabulous figured ambers have been grave gifts, even insignia, of another ritual political-religious specialist? Whatever the answers, something similar must also be the case for the amber ensemble from Tomb VI at Satricum.