Carthaginian Priestess, Tunisia; Iberian and Cypriot analogs

Recently I came across several photos of this sarcophagus depicting a a Punic priestess in a hybrid style that mixes Egyptian, Phoenician, and Hellenic styles. The wings wrapped around her body call up Isis; the modelling of her face and robe, Greek sculpture, but her hair, ears, and headdress are typical of Egyptian style, which Phoenicians had been borrowing from for centuries already by the time of this sculpture.

"Punic" refers to Phoenician settlers in Tunisia, who kept their Semitic language but also absorbed influences from the indigenous Amazighen. Representations of Tanit, for example, are overwhelmingly more numerous in North Africa and the Central and Western Mediterranean than in Lebanon, the Phoenician homeland.

She is holding a vessel in her left hand. Can't quite make out what is in her right.

A good view from below of her magnificent wings. You might ask, But how do we know this isn't Isis or some other goddess? The sculpture is in the usual mode of a portrait on a sarcophagus.

Then I came across this reconstruction of la Dama de Elche, an Iberian goddess or priestess, which many scholars identify as the Punic goddess Tanit. She was found in an aristocratic tomb in southeast Spain, having been repurposed as a funerary urn by cutting off the lower two thirds of her statue (which do not survive). This artist has done a fine job of visualizing what the statue might have looked like originally, in a form modelled on other Iberian sculptures (notably one from Cerro de los Santos), and has imagined what it looked like before the paint washed away. (Greek sculptures too were originally painted in color.)

Some archaeologists call these other statues Tanit also, but most of them are shown as offerants, holding a vessel out before them (as in fact the Punic portrait also does, though with one hand). I'll put an example below.

You can see the similarity to this Iberian sculpture from Cerro de los Santos (Hill of the Holy Ones), which the artist used as a model. But the style of this one is a bit rougher, and shows noticeable Cypriot influence, as many other Iberian statues of women do. Cyprus too was heavily influenced by Phoenicians (look for the posts about the Black Stone of Paphos, an aniconic image of Ashtart / Astarte / Aphrodite, in last year's Researching Women course (which is bundled with this one) for much more about her.

This winged Tanit is Punic art from Ibiza, the island off the eastern coast of Spain, with the same mixture of Phoenician, Kemetic and Hellenic influences as the original post image, right down to the wings wrapped around the body of the goddess.

While we're in Tunisia, here's the Greek sea goddess Amphitrite in a Roman-era mosaic at Bulla Regia, in a building known as the House of Amphitrite. If you read Greek mythology, she is presented as a rather marginal deity, consort of Poseidon, but the mosaic artists depict her (and other Nereids) quite a lot, from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. There were 50 Nereids, daughers of Doris and Nereus, and they are a favorite subject in art, to a much greater degree than in literature. Popular demand!

Here's the mosaic in situ. Pretty cool building. Rich person's house.

An Archaic Ashtart from Cyprus, circa 600–500 bce. The rendering of her eyes is very reminiscent of Iberian sculptures. The goddess flanked by lions we know from Ashtart in Lebanon (and of course Phrygian Kybele in Anatolia and then the entire Mediterranean) but here she is in Cyprus, an island west of Lebanon and south of Turkey. And she shows up in Iberia too, see next slide!

This sculpture is not of Iberian make, but from Phoenicia, but was buried in an Iberian tomb at Tutugi (Galera) in SE Spain. She dates to around 600 bce, several centuries later than the burial, so she was a treasured heirloom.

The goddess is flanked by what we'd call cherubim in Hebrew, winged sphinxes with women's heads, a theme common in Phoenician and Hebrew ivories (and in the Bible's description of the angels guarding the Holy of Holies) as well as in Mycenaean art, borrowed from western Asia.

But what is most striking about her are the openings at her nipples, and the fact that her head is hollow. Liquid (milk, wine, oil) could be poured in through the top and would flow out like breast milk into the basin she is holding. One theory is that wax was used in her breasts, and when the image was heated, the liquid would miraculously pour out from her nipples. I read this somewhere; but never saw any discussion about traces of wax which would be there if this was done.

One thing is certain; this small stone sculpture was created for ceremonial pouring.

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