©J. Paul Getty Trust
Causey, Faya. Cat. 2, Pendant: Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos) with Bird, Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Ed. Faya Causey. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu. Web. 24 March 2019.
Cat. 2, Pendant: Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos) with Bird
Height: 8.3 mm; width: 4.9 mm; depth: 2.2 mm; Diameter of suspension holes: 2 mm; Weight: 48 g
Height: 8.3 mm; width: 4.9 mm; depth: 2.2 mm
Diameter of suspension holes: 2 mm
Weight: 48 g
The pendant is in good condition, with a firm, smooth, stable surface. Before its entry into the Getty Museum, the two broken sections of the pendant were reattached and a synthetic fill was added to the break that runs along the left contour below the feet of the smaller figure. There are additional small chips on the reverse along the break and on the boot toes of the larger figure. There are visible inclusions in the fissure at the center, between the two figures, and in the midsections of each figure. The back surface and much of the front are covered with a dusty, light yellow ocher layer of degraded amber. In ambient light, the piece is reddish brown with some translucent areas; in transmitted light, the object is translucent and ruby red.
The pendant is conceived fully in the round and is composed of two frontal figures in a side-by-side pose, with a long-necked waterbird at the lower right. The human figures are identified as a woman and child because of their proportions, morphological (facial) features, dress, hair, and form of the upper torsos. The woman extends the full length of the amber and fills approximately one half of the composition. The child is carved into the upper section of the other half; beneath its feet is a spur of amber, which might be read as a groundline. Below the child, at the bottom, is the bird. It stands on the same plane as the woman. Since the bird is represented only on the obverse and the triangular depression above its head is inside the garment, it should be read as standing within the shelter of the woman’s outer garment.
Despite the difference in scale between the figures and in some of the details, both share the same head-to-body proportion, as well as dress and hairstyle. Their facial characteristics are comparably fashioned (even if they are not identical): the forehead, eyebrow ridge, temple region, and nose are conceived as a single modeled unit composed of a continuous curving form from the top edges of the head to the end of the nose. The slightly bulging, almond-shaped blank eyes are fitted neatly beneath the eyebrow ridge, the outer canthi higher than the inner ones, and the right eyes slanted higher at the outer canthi. Their noses are long and narrow (that of the woman is slightly wider), with delicate nostrils. The mouths are wider than the noses. The lips curve into slight smiles; the lower lips are slightly wider than the upper. The cheeks and lower faces are wide and rounded. The chins are short; in profile, they protrude to the level of the root of the nose. While the two faces are very similar, there are minor differences between them. The child’s face is finer in structure, her features smaller, and her chin more pointed. There is a distinct nasolabial line on the woman’s face; there is none on the child’s.
Both figures wear a similar undergarment. There is no neck detail; the garment is indicated only by the hem and lower section of a long skirt. Both also wear close-fitting veils over their heads. The front of the hair is just visible at the brow. The woman’s left frontal hair lock descends from her temples to just below her breasts; the child’s (on her right side) ends at the shoulder. The same heavy outer garment covers both figures. The line parallel to the front edge of the mantles may be a turnback or fold of the cloak; alternatively, it may represent the seam closing the lower edge of the sleeve. With her left arm and hand, the woman encircles the child; she places her right hand on her own chest. The tear-shaped form emerging from the border of the cloak may be the top of her thumb, although it is very large. Alternatively, it might represent the tip of a lotus blossom. The child’s arms are not visible. The woman is barefooted: four toes and the instep are delineated. There is no elaboration of the child’s feet. The plump bird’s body and legs are in a resting pose (the feet are visible), the neck is stretched back, with the head reverted, and the right wing is raised.
As is the case for all of the amber objects in this group, the original form of the amber blank appears to have played a key role in the composition. The nodule’s shape is suggested by the placement, size, and stance of the figures, and by the depressed area between the adult and child.
There are small drill holes in the corners of each figure’s mouth. Abrasion marks are visible underneath the chins, along the left body contour, around the head and neck of the bird, and between the feet of the adult. There are engraved lines around the eyes, separating the lips, along the front edges of the mantles, and in the hair plaits. The single perforation has two holes, one exit between the two heads at the position of the ears, and the second exit in the indentation between the two heads. The pendant probably was suspended from a strand or strands knotted at the base of the lower hole so that the piece hung as if the figures were standing.
There is no exact parallel for this pendant. In style, 77.AO.85 is very like others in the Getty group; it shares comparisons with them and is equally complex in its relationship to contemporary and earlier art, with Greek (Cretan, Ionian, and Peloponnesian), Cypriot, and Near Eastern objects. The subject, like that of 77.AO.84 (cat. no. 1), is a kourotrophic divinity. The iconography is underlined by the compositional format and the chosen material, amber. The dress and the hairstyles of the two figures identify them as female. The smaller figure likely represents a child rather than an infant since it is “standing on upright ankle.” The active pose of the goose contrasts with the stillness of the human figures. Because the adult and child are frontal, standing, and stationary (and the adult wingless), it is unlikely that an abduction scene is represented.
The bird of 77.AO.85 is schematic but telling. The carver indicated some salient features that suggest that a particular species is represented: the round head, long, undercurved bill, and distinctive form of the tail feathers aid in identifying the fowl as a white-fronted goose.
There are many similarities between this pendant and the Female Holding a Child (Kourotrophos) (cat. no. 1), presented above. There are also differences in the pose, hairstyle, and manner of covering the heads. Only 77.AO.85 includes a bird. The woman of 77.AO.84 is hatted, no hair is showing, and the hood section of her mantle is down. No hair shows on the child, and it is wrapped in a mantle. Both figures are shod. In contrast, both figures of 77.AO.85 have their heads covered by a common mantle, show hair at the brow, and wear temple locks. The woman of 77.AO.85 is barefooted. No long chiton or other undergarment is delineated for the figures of 77.AO.84, yet in this pendant, the bottom hem of the undergarment is shown. If the protrusion emerging in the area of the chest from the front closure of the cloak of 77.AO.85 is a thumb, and the hand is thus flattened on the breast, the gesture is similar to that of 77.AO.84 and to both women of the Addorsed Females pendant (cat. no. 3). As discussed above in the entry for 77.AO.84, this hand gesture has been variously interpreted. It is likely one with complex meanings, but it certainly had a fertility aspect and perhaps a funerary one. Avowal or promise also may be inherent. On the other hand, the droplike shape could represent the tip of an unopened lotus blossom, a subject of great antiquity in ancient art and a symbol of youth, fertility, and rebirth. The lotus blossom may have been thought especially apt for an unfurled young life, as it was in Egypt.
The type of undergarment worn by each figure of 77.AO.85 cannot be determined, since only the hem and lower edge of a skirt are indicated. There is no articulation at the neck. This might suggest that the carver neglected these aspects of dress or that the figures of 77.AO.85 wear skirts only beneath their mantles. If this is the case, one possible parallel is the bronze divinity from the Vulcian “Isis” Tomb, whose only garment may be a skirt.
Amber comparisons for 77.AO.85 include the other five in the Getty group and two others in London and Philadelphia, an unprovenanced pendant in the form of two standing figures in the British Museum, and a pendant in the form of a female figure, possibly from Ascoli Piceno, in Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology). An ivory carving of a seated female figure, part of a furnishing from Pianello di Castelbellino, has the distinctive short neck, short-set body, and facial profile of the ambers.
For the figures of 77.AO.85, the best comparisons among Etruscan small bronzes are found in Emeline Richardson’s Early Etruscan Ladies, Series B, Group 1, the same group that helps to situate 77.AO.84 and 77.AO.81.1. Bronzes in Florence (Museo Archeologico Nazionale 225) and London (British Museum 1907.3–11.1) are particularly relevant for their body proportions, facial features, and overall combination of dress elements. Florence, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 27, and Leiden, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden H3 ZZZZ 1, provide the best parallels for the cloak of 77.AO.85. The “Etruscan-ness” of 77.AO.85 and the related ambers and bronzes is brought out further when they are compared to large-scale Etruscan figures. They share with the gypsum figure in London (from the Polledrara Cemetery at Vulci), the pair of limestone figures from Casale Marittimo, and some early Chiusine limestone figures a solidity and retention of the permanent materials in the sculptures.
Potnia Theron figures stamped on a number of bucchero kyathos handles—two excavated at Poggio Civitate and others likely from Chiusi—are important comparisons, not only for composition and style, but also for specific features such as the birds and the figure’s temple locks. As L. Bonfante has outlined, the Greek-influenced Etruscan fashioning of temple locks was popular from the end of the seventh through the first half of the sixth centuries. Comparable temple locks are worn by some funerary female busts from Chiusi, by the bronze divinity from the Vulcian “Polledrara Tomb” or “Isis Tomb,” and by the standing female bronze from the Brolio deposit. The amber figures’ locks are most like the latter’s.
Not only might the hairstyle be Greek-derived, so too might aspects of the style and iconography. Both Peloponnesian and South Ionian stylistic aspects of 77.AO.85 (and of the Divinity Holding Hares, 77.AO.82 [cat. no. 4], and the other Kourotrophos, 77.AO.84) are brought out by comparison to certain Arcadian and Sicyonian bronzes of Hermes Kriophoros and of other unnamed shepherds. The ambers and bronzes have a related solidity of sculptural forms and similar modeling of the bodies beneath the dress and relative proportions (head-to-body and torso-to-leg length); they also all have thin arms and small hands and feet. (The small hands and small feet are also characteristic of the four largest figures from the Brolio find, the bronze statuettes of a female and three warrior males.) The backs of 77.AO.85 and 77.AO.82 are especially like those of the Peloponnesian bronzes. A comparison to the Man in Cloak in Providence, to cite one example, is telling.
The South Ionian aspect is apparent when the ambers are compared to the most “Samian” of Etruscan bronzes. For instance, the “Kneeling Archer” in Providence is akin in facial details, general physical type, sculptural proportions, and smooth modeling. The South Ionian aspects of the amber pendants are elicited by comparison to an ivory of a horse-tamer and to a wood sculpture of two figures, both thought to be Samian. Alfonsina Russo suggests the existence of an Ionian, specifically Samian-influenced, amber carving atelier in the Metaponto area, with two examples: the seated amber figure from a grave at Tolve and another from Tomb 122 at the Rutigliano-Purgatorio necropolis.
The common mantle and the goose may be iconographic details that help one to interpret the meaning and functions of 77.AO.85. The mantle shelters the figures beneath it and separates them from the outside: it can serve both literally and figuratively as a sign of protection. The common mantle can be interpreted as an ancient fertility motif, a signifier of matrilineal descent, a symbol of marriage and procreation, and more simply as a protective device.
How does the goose function in this pendant? Is it a symbol or attribute, or does it perform some temporal or narrative role? Long-necked birds are among the earliest sculpted objects: one of the earliest is the ducklike (perhaps) bird, seen in profile, from Uruk, of about 3000 B.C. In Egypt the goose is one of the forms of the solar god Atum. Early in Etruscan art, in illustrations of both landscape and the built environment, waterfowl are in residence, and they are represented as resting, standing, or in action. Birds, especially waterfowl, feature prominently on the bronze objects from Iron Age Italy. Ducks, geese, and swans are among the most numerous subjects of figured ambers found at sites in Greece, Etruria, and Latium. Long-necked and short-legged waterfowl may be the most frequent of all faunal decoration in earliest Etruscan imagery, embellishing countless objects found in tombs. Images of female divinities with waterfowl, usually in the schema of the goddess known as Potnia Theron, are found on bronzes, including vessels and ornaments, as early as the eighth century B.C.
Early Etruscan sculptural images of divinities, male or female, defined by attributes are relatively rare, and it is significant that among them are goddesses with birds, mainly waterfowl and raptors. Among the sculptured representations are the early-sixth-century bronze divinity with a horned bird from the Vulcian “Polledrara Tomb,” or “Isis Tomb,” and a slightly later freestanding bronze statuette in Cortona with a large bird of prey (perhaps an eagle) perched on her head. The latter is comparable to the Laconian (or possibly Tarentine) divinity that forms the handle of a bronze hydria of about 570 found at Grächwil, Switzerland. Female divinities with birds are to be found in Etruscan bucchero, painted vases, and gold objects of adornment (namely earrings, pendants, and plaques). Many are in the Potnia Theron schema and some are represented in the bird-atop-the-head pose. Divinities with birds (again both waterbirds and raptors) on contemporary Greek vases (primarily Corinthian and Laconian) and on a series of ivory plaques from the Spartan sanctuary of Artemis Orthia include depictions of both schemata. An Etruscan mirror support of fifth-century date is a later relevant example: it represents an old-fashioned kore figure wearing what appears to be a pointed hat with an upturned rim. The join to the mirror is in the form of addorsed, upside-down swans.
Above are listed the images of female divinities with birds. With the possible exception of the lion- or hare-wielding Mistresses of the Animals, no other divinities as such are represented with animals or birds. The only other example of a kourotrophos with a bird known to me is a much later type of Etrusco-Latial terracotta votive statue from Satricum, of fourth- to second-century date. In these terracottas the woman is seated, the child is in her lap, and a bird is standing in front. B. M. Fridh-Haneson posits that this and related multifigured, single-mantled terracotta votives are Orphic-Dionysiac, and that they represent rebirth to eternal life by divine adoption, a hoped-for assimilation and identification with Dionysos.
What roles are played by the bird of 77.AO.85? Might the fowl act as an attribute, signify the location of the figure’s divine actions, or point to a specific activity? After all, the bird is in action, in contrast to the static pose of the figures. Might the goose signify transit and rebirth or designate the figure as the Greek Artemis? It is perhaps not a native Italian divinity, such as the Etruscan Artumes (or Artames or Aritimi), who “never became mistress of the wild animals or even goddess of the hunt, as she had been in Greece.”
The elaborate perforation system of the pendant, which when strung would have maintained the upright posture of the figures, strongly suggests that 77.AO.85 was suspended or worn or was attached to something before its ultimate burial. As a shining ornament, 77.AO.85 was a large, glittering jewel figured with potent imagery. As a permanent amulet, it could have been considered as theomorphic, one that would have offered its wearer, on earth, in the tomb, or in the afterworld, the protection of the deity represented. Both material and subjects were the province of persons of elevated social rank, members of the religious and political elite. In life, its owner could have shown herself to be a votive of the divinity represented: the combination of material and subject would have played a powerful danger-averting and protective role. In the tomb, 77.AO.85 might offer special protection and even guidance to the deceased in the fraught voyage to the afterworld.