Object in Focus: A Terracotta Figurine of the Goddess Nike (C.531)

GMA_C531

Terracotta statuette of the goddess Nike (C.531)

This terracotta figurine is of the Greek goddess Nike (C.531). It dates to the Hellenistic period (2nd – 1st century BC) and comes from Apulia in Italy.

During the Hellenistic Period (c. 323-31 BC), winged statues of figures like this one of Nike, the personification of Victory, or of Eros, personification of love, became increasingly popular.

These figurines, typically made of terracotta, were mainly deposited in tombs, most often

GMA_C531_3

Terracotta figure of Nike (C.531)

those belong to women and children. They were also often placed in sanctuaries, where they were dedicated as votive offerings, expressing the desire of visitors to communicate with and show devotion to the gods.

By the 8th century BC, the city-states of Greece had colonised much of Apulia (modern Puglia) in south-eastern Italy. In 706 BC, the Spartans founded the city of Tarentum (modern Tarento), one of the most prominent cities in the region. With their easy access to the Mediterranean, fertile hinterland, and quality craftsmanship, many of these colonies flourished.

This figurine may have been manufactured in Tarentum, as the motif of the winged Victory was a popular one in this area. Beyond this, however, its provenance is largely unknown, but it is unlikely to have come into the Museum’s collections from John Garstang’s excavations, as is the case for many of the Egyptian objects in the collection.

GMA_C531_2

Wing and wing-tip from C.531

The figurine is in good overall condition. The left wing was reattached by restorers, but the tip was not. The right wing is detached from the object, and the tip is missing. Based on the marks of repair at the figurine’s neck, the head was likely also restored or reattached. The base also shows signs of restoration. The base of the statue is hollow, and there is a circular whole at the back of the object, between the wings. The figure’s clothing also has residues of green, red, yellow, and white pigment. Coloured glazes or slips were used to decorate terracotta in this way until the 5th century BC.

An Unknown Official and an Unseen Statuette (E.7804)

E.7804

E.7804

During the course of the work we are currently doing on the redevelopment of the Garstang Museum of Archaeology, a number of interesting artefacts have been found languishing in the museum stores. Many of these objects have been in storage for decades, and some may never have been seen by the public.

This elegant, yet sadly damaged, statue is one such object. It is carved from a relatively soft stone known as steatite, or soap-stone, and is a beautiful matte-green in colour. Even though the head and the bottom of the figure’s legs have broken away and been lost, it is nonetheless possible to tell that the figure was male and in the ‘active pose’ – with his left leg extended as if in mid-step.

This pose was highly popular throughout Pharaonic history, for kings and commoners alike. The stance, along with the youthful physique of the statue (with highly defined muscles) was intended to convey the “go-getting”-attitude and vitality of the deceased individual.

UC.8711

UC.8711

The dating of the object is not too difficult, even though it does not have any archaeological context. The pointed wig and posture is highly reminiscent of late Middle Kingdom private sculpture. Examples of this style are found in museums all over the world, such as this basalt statue currently residing in the Petrie Museum of Archaeology (UC8711).

Attached to the back of the figure is a pillar containing a hieroglyphic inscription of the offering formula. The purpose of this formula was to ensure a perpetual supply of foodstuffs and goods in the afterlife, and is a very common feature of ancient Egyptian funerary material. A similar back-pillar and inscription is also found on the now-famous “spinning” Middle Kingdom statue of Neb-Senu from the Manchester Museum. Despite keeping a close eye on E.7804, we have not yet witnessed any spinning – perhaps due to the loss of his legs!

E.7804 Inscription

E.7804 Inscription

The inscription on E.7804 is dedicated to “Osiris, Lord of Ankh-Tawy” which is quite an unusual combination of god and epithet. Ankh-Tawy was the necropolis district of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and is almost always associated with the god Ptah. However, on occasion Osiris, as the Ruler of the Dead, was associated with this vast cemetery during the late Middle Kingdom, which adds further support to our suggested date for the figure.

Unfortunately the inscription breaks off just before the point where one would normally expect the name of the statue’s owner to appear. Egyptian statues were highly stylised, rather than being accurate portraits of the individual they commemorated. For this reason the inclusion of the individual’s name on an object of this type was of critical importance as it allowed the owner’s ka (spirit) to identify, and subsequently inhabit, the statue.

E.7804 will be going on display with a number of other funerary statuettes in the new gallery of ancient Egyptian funerary beliefs, opening in 2014.