Portrait of a Lady. 'Real' women, 'imagined' women and the development of female representation in Prehistoric Cyprus. A Lecture by Prof. Luca Bombardieri
According to legend, it was from the clear waters of the island of Cyprus – precisely on the beach of Petra tou Romiou (Fig. 1) - that Aphrodite emerged. From Greek times to now, this association has been embedded into the collective imagination, but has it always been so? Was there something special about the way women were represented in Cyprus before they took the shape and features of the Aphrodite we all know?
Figure 1. Petra tou Romiou, the legendary
birthplace of Aphrodite in Cyprus (Photo by M. Yamasaki).|
The journey begins in the Chalcolithic settlement of Kissonerga Mosphilia with the discovery under a circular building of a foundation deposit. In a round basin together with a triton shell and pebble stones, a series of female figurines was unearthed. All of these appeared to be related to pregnancy, most of them showing large hips and bellies, some being supported by a stool, and finally, the figurine of a woman in the act of giving birth (Fig. 2). The connection between motherhood and women is an obvious one, but in Cypriot culture this appears to be stressed with particular fervour.
|Figure 3. Early Bronze Age jar with plastic
decoration of a village-scene. At the centre, a woman holding an infant. The Cyprus
Museum, Nicosia (Photo by M. Yamasaki).|
Figure 4. Plank shaped figurines at the
Cyprus Museum, Nicosia (Photo by M. Yamasaki).|
In the Late Bronze Age, we see a new influx of ideas and traditions from the Levant and the Aegean, and this is particularly evident in the coroplastic. The "bird-faced" figurines, clearly show the stylistic influence of their Levantine counterparts, but again, the maternity element is central to the Cypriot versions (Fig. 5). As for the ones of Aegean inspiration, the raised arms and considering the fact that several of these figurines were found in sanctuary precincts, it seems plausible that they were ritually connotated, if not having been representations of deities themselves.
Figure 5. Terracotta figurine of a woman
with a child. , registry number 1897.0401.1087.|
Figure 6. Bronze figurine of Astarte on the
Ingot. Ashmolean Museum, registry number AN1971.888.|
If you are interested, here you’ll find some suggestions for further reading:
Diane Bolger (Ed.), A Companion to Gender Prehistory (Chichester, England: Wiley Blackwell), 2013.
Luca Bombardieri, Tommaso Braccini and Silvia Romani (Eds.), Il Trono Variopinto. Figure e Forme della Dea dell'Amore (Edizioni dell'Orso: Roma), 2014.
Stephanie Budin, "Girl, woman, mother, goddess: Bronze Age Cypriot terracotta figurines" in Medelhavsmuseet: Focus on the Mediterranean, Vol. 5, 2009.