Muses can be hard to positively ID, but I’m pretty sure this one is Terpsichore, Muse of Dance. She is sometimes shown dancing, and sometimes, as here, as a seated woman in Greek dress playing her harp to accompany a troupe of dancers. Presumably the laurel wreath hanging from the back of her chair will be awarded to the best dancer.
Terpsichore is about 8 inches high and made of spelter, an inexpensive white metal alloy made mostly or entirely of zinc. Originally used as decoration on an Ansonia clock, she was made in imitation of costly French bronzes of her day.
This half-lifesize study for the Sherman Memorial’s personification of the goddess of Victory resides in the Augustus St. Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH.
The completed monument, in gilded bronze, stands just outside the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza on 60th Street and Fifth Avenue. Restored and re-gilded in 2013, the monument shines as St. Gaudens intended, and Victory again holds a palm frond in her left hand.
Victory, or Victoria, is “Nike” in her ancient Greek incarnation. A close companion of Zeus, Victoria is the divine charioteer, worshipped by Roman generals after successful battles. Ubiquitous in Roman society, winged Victories gradually became angels in Christian iconography.
Over 50 pieces by sculptor Kiki Smith form a building-wide installation at the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side of New York. One of the first United States synagogues built by and for Ashkenazi immigrants, the structure had fallen into disrepair but is now resurrected. Smith has designed a folkloric iconography—stars, cats, wooden chairs, birds—that epitomizes the divine possibilities of the mundane.
More photos of the gorgeous window—a collaboration between Smith and architect Deborah Gans—are in this article from Hyperallergic.
Directions and history can be found at the Eldridge Street Synagogue site.
I haven’t yet been able to see “Gods in Color” but I really enjoyed this follow-up article courtesy of Hyperallergic. We know ancient sculptures were painted, but it’s always stunning to see the reality of the pieces as they were when new.
Photo courtesy of Liebieghaus Skulpturen Sammlung
This tiny bronze sculpture (c. 1000 BC) depicts Isis nursing her infant son Horus. An iconic image in ancient Egypt, the pose alone reminded contemporary viewers of the goddess and her many legends, including the maternal devotion she exhibited in raising falcon-headed Horus, god of war. The main cycle of Egyptian myths involves the slaying of her husband Osiris, and his resurrection by Isis and her sister Nepthys: Isis was thereafter the protector of souls as they made their way through the underworld. Isis wears on her head the sign for “throne” and is often shown nursing Pharaohs as she nursed Horus. She is not only a pre-eminent deity of the Egyptian pantheon, but her worship spread to the Greco-Roman world as well. Only the rise of Christianity eventually quashed Isis. This tiny and beautifully detailed bronze is at the mfa.org #GoddessID
In ancient Greece, a Sphinx had a woman’s head; in Egypt, the creature is often androgynous, or male. The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt, is one of the oldest sculptures in the world. It still generates mystery today because its human head has clearly been re-worked from a more ancient face.
In Greek mythology, Sphinx was the daughter of Typhon and Chimaera. She was said to have come from the most distant part of Ethiopia, and proposed her famous riddle (“What walks on four legs in childhood, two legs in adulthood, and three legs in old age?) as punishment to Thebans. Oedipus solved the riddle: “As a baby man crawls on all fours, as an adult he is two-footed, and as he grows old he gains a third foot in the form of a cane.” At this the Sphinx threw herself from the Acropolis.
A sphinx was often used on a grave marker or stelae of a young man, as in this headless Greek example from 530 BC in the Museum of Fine Arts.
A mix of styles, and some ancient Egyptian symbolism, decorate this household shrine to Astarte. Tiny in size but powerful in influence, Astarte perhaps watched the goings-on from a niche in the wall of her 6th-century Phoenician house. Made in terra cotta, this goddess looks like an everyday woman, albeit one with pet hippos (perhaps the maternal goddess Taweret) and googly-eyed Bes, protector of children. Now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston #GoddessID
There are many forms and colors of Tara, each having different powers and offering different protections. The Green Tārā, (śyāmatārā) is associated with peacefulness and enlightened activity is the most depicted and the central aspect of Tārā from which others emanate. In her Green form, she is often also known as Khadiravaṇi-Tārā (Tārā of the acacia forest). Green Tara’s color symbolizes youthful energy.
Tara’s name means “star” or “planet” and therefore she is associated with navigation and travel both literally and metaphorically as spiritual crossing to the ‘other side’ of the ocean of existence (enlightenment).
This small and elegant 18th-century Tibetan Green Tara, in gilt copper alloy and turquoise, is from the Dallas Museum of Art
With apologies to Terry Pratchett (author of Small Gods, among many, many other books), here is a pint-sized and somewhat anonymous goddess, one of many in a case of painted terra cotta women. This eight-inch goddess, possibly Artemis (for lack of a better attribution, according to the nearby label), sits on a throne-like chair and was made in about the second century BC. She is beautifully and simply modeled; traces of her hands, hair, jewelry and clothing remain, delicately painted in red and black on the off-white ground covering the red terra cotta. The painting hints at what was once a lifelike presentation of a deity resembling a dignified matron of her era. She appears to be mold made—perhaps an inexpensive, ordinary goddess to place in a household shrine. #GoddessID
This life-size marble Aphrodite, from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, represents the Greek goddess of love and desire, counterpart of the Roman Venus. Viewed through the Roman lens, she is essentially assimilative and benign, and embraces several otherwise quite disparate functions. She can give military victory, sexual success, good fortune and prosperity. In one context, she is a goddess of prostitutes; in another, she turns the hearts of men and women from sexual vice to virtue.
Originally, Aphrodite would have held her right arm horizontally over her breasts and her left over her pubic region, a gesture that seems to have been a stock pose for sculptures of this goddess.
This piece is relatively recent, from the 2nd century A.D., though Aphrodite’s lineage goes back thousands of years. The combination of fertility and warfare is seen in the ancient Inanna. #Goddess ID