©J. Paul Getty Trust
Causey, Faya. Cat. 32, Pendant: Female Animal (Lioness?), Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum
Ed. Faya Causey. Los Angeles: Getty P, 2012. museumcatalogues.getty.edu. Web. 15 December 2018.
Cat. 32, Pendant: Female Animal (Lioness?)
Length: 55 mm; width: 23 mm; height: 23 mm; Weight: 7.2 g
Gift of Gordon McLendon, 77.AO.81.8
Length: 55 mm; width: 23 mm; height: 23 mm
Weight: 7.2 g
Gift of Gordon McLendon
The pendant is intact except for small losses to the left lower jaw and center of the chest. The surface is crazed and cracking, with flakes missing from the cortex. Before entry into the donor’s collection, the pendant was mechanically cleaned and treated with a thickly applied surface consolidant that added shine to the surface. In ambient light, the pendant is light brown, and in transmitted light, red-brown. The untouched surface inside the perforations may indicate the appearance of the amber before treatment.
The original shape of the amber blank may be reflected in the compact, droplike shape of the pendant. The bottom is flat, the top convex, tapering at the nose end. The animal is stretched out, with her open-eyed head placed on her paws. The head and body curve slightly to the right, with the animal’s left shoulder and leg extended farther on the left. The head is square, with a full forehead that gently slopes to the bridge of the nose, a flat muzzle, and small mouth. The jaws are square. Dividing the head from the body at the thick neck is an engraved line. From it spring two triangular ears. The animal’s back is full and rounded, arching all the way through the lumbar region. The front and back legs have a similar shape. The haunches are drawn forward, with the lower legs next to the abdomen and advanced past the point of the knee to midbody. The lower back legs are comparatively thin and angular, with long, hooklike feet. In comparison, the front feet are small. The left lower leg is further forward under the head; an object may be held beneath it. The five pairs of large dugs lie in neat rows.
Because of the state of preservation and the chemical treatment of the amber, only the traces of engraved lines are witness to the pendant’s manufacture. A perforation with holes each 2 mm in diameter passes directly under the neck in line with the root of the ears. If suspended by the boring through the head, the animal would have hung head upward; if a suspension device were attached to the holes in the rump, it would have hung nose downward. A pair of stopped bores, each 2 mm in diameter, are located at each side of the tail to a depth of about 3 mm. Below the left side of the lower lip is a similar bore, 2 mm in diameter and about 2.5 mm deep.
Feline, dog, sow, or hare? The physiognomic characteristics of 77.AO.81.8 are not like that of any animal, or of any ancient representation of an animal, known to me. It has no parallels within the corpus of pre-Roman carved amber. Nevertheless, in its general format, 77.AO.81.8 is similar to many other types of amber in the form of dormant animals (for example, 76.AO.78, cat. no. 31, to name one Getty pendant). The curve of the upper part of the animal’s body, the short, fat body, and the positioning of the right paws are similar to a group of Orientalizing amber dog pendants, and to many Archaic amber lions. As noted in the entry for 76.AO.78, the ancestral schema of the amber lions may be Mycenaean. 77.AO.81.8 is particularly close to an extant pendant, the gold couchant lion from Tomb 5 at Hagia Triada (circa 1500–1450). This said, the form of the head and ears, the manner in which the animal crouches, and the dugs invite comparison to a small group of Orientalizing representations of felines. (The legs and feet of 77.AO.81.8, however, are more lagomorphic than leonine.) The short, curled tail is the one big difference between 77.AO.81.8 and 76.AO.78 and the other related amber felines (as well as the comparable Bronze Age gold lions). Although a few Etruscan felines appear to have short tails, the short curly tail of 77.AO.81.8 is more like that of a pig, or some breeds of dog, including the Canis familiaris Studer, the smooth-haired, big, heavy dog with small ears represented in Mesopotamian art.
The stopped bores near the jaw area and to either side of the tail are equally without parallel. They were likely used for attachments, perhaps a collar at the neck if the animal is a dog, or for the attachment of pendants (nursing young?). The prominence of the milk-laden breasts of the amber animal emphasizes the fertility and regenerative aspects of the pendant amulet. If it represents a dog, there may have been an association with guardianship, protection, and healing. The ancient Near Eastern association of the dog with Gula, “the great physician,” is allied to the later importance of the dog in the iconography and cult of the healers Apollo Asgelatas and Asclepius. Some Late Period amulet types of Egyptian glazed-composition sows (the sky goddess Nut, or Isis?) were intended to endow their wearers with fecundity. Comparable, Archaic Etruscan painted representations, such as the felines painted on vases (primarily found in tombs) by the Micali Painter, or the mammiferous feline painted on the walls of the Tomb of the Lionesses at Tarquinia, where the lioness not only acts as mediator but also as nurse. Nigel Spivey suggests that the lactating felines of Etruscan funerary art allude to breastfeeding, to the feeding of children, to the infantile condition, to rebirth and that the passage to the afterworld is expressed simply by a return to the infantile state. J. Bulté shows how in Egypt, images of a lactating lioness (or of a figure with a feline body and a human head) were not uncommon as the subject of faïence (glazed-composition) amulets, which she shows to be associated with a happy maternity (“l’heureuse maternité”). A lactating feline carved from amber must have been a powerful amulet, one in which the fertility associations and regenerative aspects of the material were enhanced by the subject (especially if the attachments were tiny kittens).