From the earliest times, it was customary for the men and women of the cultures of the ancient Near East to wear amulets or charms in a variety of forms, from pictorial cylinder seals to likenesses of animals and deities. Often meticulously carved from precious hardstones, these amulets were thought to carry special, even magical, properties, and were extremely personal objects indicative of social status and individual taste.
The present sculpture in miniature is testament to this practice. It is exquisitely carved from rock crystal, a rare and expensive, and therefore very highly prized, material in antiquity. Rock crystal is exceptionally hard, and producing items of this quality was a labour-intensive process; the technical and artistic dexterity of the artist who was able to transform such an unyielding material into an elegantly sculptural object with such lyrical contours as the present should not be underestimated.
The figure shares features characteristics of mother goddess figurines known from across the ancient world since the Neolithic Period, namely the exaggerated protuberance of the buttocks, thighs and abdomen (steatopygy) and the hands raised to the breasts. The knees are defined, giving the impression that the figure is crouching, and she has a serene yet animated expression. Such representations are linked to fertility cults and the cult of the ‘Great Goddess’ or mother goddess, which found expression in a variety of civilizations across the ancient world. Part of a pantheon related to the cycle of life, an amulet in her image would have been worn to harness the power of the deity, ensure continued prosperity, and placate her unpredictable wrath.
Agora Antiques, Toronto, Canada, before 1973, (inv. 086, no. 2).
Private Collection, Connecticut, 1973-2018.