Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Worship of Cybele, or Magna Mater (the Great Mother), extends back thousands of years in Anatolia. The Senate voted to have her cult brought to Rome in the late 3rd century BCE in response to a prophecy that she would aid Rome in its war against Carthage. Although typically accompanied by lions and carrying a drum, here she is identified by her crown and gesture of offering.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
1993.233
Title
Plaque of the Goddess Cybele
Classification
Plaques
Work Type
plaque
Date
2nd-3rd century CE
Places
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Europe
Period
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Culture
Roman
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/303850
Location
Level 3, Room 3700, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Roman Art
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Leaded bronze
Technique
Cast, lost-wax process
Dimensions
10.3 x 9.3 x 1.2 cm (4 1/16 x 3 11/16 x 1/2 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Leaded Bronze:
Cu, 79.35; Sn, 7.5; Pb, 12.77; Zn, 0.009; Fe, 0.09; Ni, 0.06; Ag, 0.05; Sb, 0.06; As, 0.12; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.005; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina features cuprite under green corrosion products, which cover much of the surface. The golden-hued metallic areas were possibly exposed through the process of wear. The object is structurally sound. The nose is abraded and flattened, and some areas may have been chemically cleaned. The back is concealed by a waxy, clay-like material that lies over the patina.

The plaque is a solid cast and was made in one piece. The wax model was produced from a mold and reworked before casting. The griffin protomes on the headdress were enhanced in the metal with round punch marks. The hair was also textured with a pointed, round-tipped tool. Some other details may also have been further finished in the metal. There is no evidence of how the plaque might have fastened to a bigger ensemble. The incuse figure on the reverse is largely concealed by accretions. It is not possible to say much about how it was made without further removing material.


Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2001)

Provenance
Private collection, Netherlands, (by 1983), sold; to [Royal Athena Galleries, New York, NY, November 14, 1983], sold; to Max Falk, New York, NY, (1983-1993), gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 1993.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Max Falk in honor of Professor David Gordon Mitten
Accession Year
1993
Object Number
1993.233
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
On this parabolic relief plaque the goddess Cybele is depicted frontally with her hands cupping her breasts. The relief is thinnest at the edges and thickest at the center, near the goddess’s hands. Cybele is veiled, and her headdress is decorated with six griffin protomes. Her hair, visible beneath the veil, is pulled up from her face, and three long and tightly coiled locks fall on either shoulder. She wears a mantle over a peplos and a bracelet on each wrist. Three to four digits on each hand are depicted. A raised linear border encircles the plaque. There is a band with alternating rosettes and lotuses on the bottom. The main campus is bordered on the bottom side by a raised bar and around the curved area by an egg-and-dart pattern. On the upper portion of the back is an incuse or incised circle. Within the circle is a nude female, torso turned frontally and legs to the right in profile, riding a horned animal, perhaps a goat, to the left, rendered in incuse.

Given the plaque’s thickness, M. Y. Treister considered it to have been a matrix, over which thin metal would have been hammered to take the shape of the relief (1). The embossed plaque that was created could be used as a votive or for decoration. A thin parabolic silver sheet with a similar depiction of the goddess, wearing a modius (calythos) but within a parabola and holding her breasts, from the Kerameikos Museum, Athens, inv. no. M 362, could have been made on a matrix like this one (2), as could have a gold repoussé fragment in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. no. AO 2066 (3). A rectangular bronze matrix in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 20.2.24, bears several scenes related to Cybele in intaglio on both sides, some divided into discrete units by architectural elements or geometric borders. One of these scenes is a depiction of a bust and torso of Cybele, hands cupping her breasts, within a parabolic border that is very similar to the Athens and Paris examples and iconographically related to the Harvard plaque (4). H. Seyrig compares the Louvre example with a more elaborate plaque in plaster of similar form depicting the goddess making the same gesture in Cairo (5). Plaques like the Harvard, New York, and Cairo examples could have been used as matrixes or models in the creation of the thin repoussé appliques for decorative or votive purposes (6).

NOTES:

1. Id., “A Bronze Matrix in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University and the Genesis of 2nd-3rd century AD Matrices in the Balkans,” Hammering Techniques in Greek and Roman Jewellery and Toreutics, Colloquia Pontica 8 (Leiden, 2001) 349-54, fig. 121.

2. Treister 2001 (supra 1) 350, fig. 50.

3. Lexicon Iconograpicum Mythologiae Classicae Astarte no. 4c. Many goddesses of the Near East have similar iconography, often related to the great goddess (Magna Mater or Cybele) wearing a mural crown or modius and accompanied by lions.

4. See E. D. Reeder, “The Mother of the Gods and a Hellenistic Bronze Matrix,” American Journal of Archaeology 91.3 (1987): 423-40.

5. See id., “Antiquités syriennes,” Syria 36.1-2 (1959): 38-89, esp. 57-58, pl. 11.3-4.

6. See Treister 2001 (supra 1). See also the representation of an Archigallus (high priest) of Cybele, wearing a wreath decorated by circular medallions and a relief-plaque pendant in LIMC Kybele no. 130.


Lisa M. Anderson

Publication History

Michail Yu Treister, Hammering Techniques in Greek and Roman Jewellery and Toreutics, ed. James Hargrave (Leiden; Boston, 2001), p. 349-54, fig. 121.

Exhibition History

32Q: 3700 Roman, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

Ancient Bronzes

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu