Due to the lack of relevant texts, especially for the very ancient periods, the information about the Great Goddess of Cyprus is mainly based on the study of clay or picrolith and limestone figurines, and for the later periods, on the study of limestone statues and statuettes, which show the evolution of the image and identity of the goddess over the millennia. Idols, placed in tombs, shrines and private homes, had an important role in ancient religions. Many interpretations have been suggested: they may have been depictions of the goddess or her priestesses or her sacred servants or even attendants of the dead, amulets used to protect the dead, stimulate fertility or simply for good luck. Later, they were depictions of devotees, musicians, or simply believers. Certainly they were objects of worship that functioned as a connecting link between divinity and mortals.
ANTHROPOMORPHIC IDOL // CHIROKITIA
Neolithic 8500 - 5200 BC
The first inhabitants of the island, most likely coming from the shores of Syria and Anatolia, brought with them many varieties of plants and animals. The settlement of these first inhabitants marks a shift from the societies of hunters and food gatherers to agricultural societies and the creation of the first settlements. The first inhabitants are unaware of pottery and metallurgy and therefore use vessels made of stone or perishable materials, leather or wood, and their tools are made of stone or bone. The making of clay pots emerges in the middle of the 5th millennium (4.500 B.C.).
Figures in human shape are uncommon finds in Neolithic settlements on Cyprus. These may have served some function in life-cycle rituals, marriage arrangements, or funerals. Or they may simply have been a kind of good luck charm.
Chalcolithic Period 3900 - 2400 BC
During the Chalcolithic period a new important civilization develops on the island, which is characterized by an impressive development of art and technology, with the simultaneous appearance of the first copper objects, marking the beginning of Cyprus metallurgy. In parallel, growth in population is evidenced with the appearance of bigger settlements and larger houses. Also, social hierarchies seem to form within the settlements, depending on the ownership of the goods produced.
PLANK SHAPED FIGURINES
Early and middle Bronze Age 2300 - 1600 BC
The term "plank-shaped" or "plank-form" is given to a special category of human representation found in Cyprus in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages (ca. 2100-1600 BC). These figurines are extremely schematic in form and are usually made of clay, with the exception of only a few made of stone. They were the most common representation of the human form during this period.
The most characteristic feature of these figurines is their flat rectangular body with a narrower rectangle representing the neck and the head while in some cases angular limbs are indicated. All the features are either incised of painted on both surfaces of the figurines. Many of these figurines have perforated ears indicating that earrings may have been suspended from them.
Their function is not clear. They may have acted as ritual symbols or alternatively they may have been miniature versions of larger wooden xoana (effigies) of deities associated with fertility and regeneration. This could explain why they also appear as grave goods in tombs. Other interpretations however, propose that they may have been used as markers of identity
BIRD FACE TERRACOTTA STATUETTE
Late Bronze age 1600 – 1050 B.C.
Excavations of Curium, Cyprus (1934 - 1954)
It represents a standing, nude woman. whose rather squat proportions still recall those of the steatopygic women from the Neolithic period, specially because of the hips broad contour and of the generous buttocks. The simple forms, which are a typical feature of the figurine, attract the eye of the modern spectator without interfering with the immediate understanding of the subject and of all details. The two rings inserted in the ears and the horizontal lines engraved on the neck are elements of the adornment, and would indicate that the woman is not an ordinary figure (a deity, a priestess, a woman of high social rank?). She holds in her arms a barely modeled silhouette which certainly represents a child feeding at her right breast.
As it is often the case with prehistoric statuettes, the sexual and fecundity aspects are strongly emphasized: the feeding breast, surrounded by the arms and hands, the wide hips and the disproportionately large pubic triangle, enable us to confidently relate this figure to images of fertility deities which were largely widespread in the Near East and in the Mediterranean basin. On the island of Cyprus, which was the birthplace of Aphrodite – the goddess of love and fertility – the tradition of statuettes representing the great goddess of fecundity can be traced back to the late Neolithic at least: such “idols” have also been excavated in many sites (for instance, in the region of Paphos, where Aphrodite was born from the foam of the sea) and survived more or less steadily and following different influences (Anatolian, Near Eastern, Aegean), until the late Bronze Age.
This figurine is a beautiful example of Cypriot sculpture from the late Bronze Age: it can be connected with a group of pieces whose typology is well attested and which seems have been influenced by Syrian sculptors, and indirectly by Mesopotamian models. The mechanical and coarse workmanship of these terracottas, as well as their distribution, suggest that these images were intended to be given to deities by a large audience and are, to us, an important testimony of the popular piety of the period.
GODDESS Ψ // THE GODDESS WITH RAISED HANDS
Cypro-Geometric / Cypro-Archaic / Cypro-Classic Period 1050 - 310 BC
Terracotta female figurine with upraised arms possibly of a votary or a goddess, wheelmade. Cylindrical tubular body with circular flat base, two projections render the female breasts, eyes outlined with black paint, elbows in relief and a ridge for mouth. The facial features are painted with black and purple paint. The Goddess wears a diadem around the forehead. Necklaces and pendants are indicated with black paint, the hair fall at the back of the head and shoulder. Black and red painted narrow and broad bands around the arms and lower body. It is suggested that they were influenced by Minoan prototypes. These type of figurines usually have cylindrical bodies with a slightly flared base for support. The arms are raised, the palms face outward and the breasts are rendered in relief. The head is usually placed slightly backwards as the figure looks up to the sky. The uplifted arms and the face suggest that figures either represent a worshipper or a deity. In the first case, the worshipper calls or prays to the deity.
More about Ψ
AFRODITI // VENUS OF SOLI
Hellinistic and Roman Period 310 BC - 330 AD
This figure showcases a remarkable artefact from the ancient city of Soli in Cyprus - the Statuette of Aphrodite. Dating back to the 1st century BC, this exquisite statue is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Cyprus. Standing tall and proud Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, is depicted in all her divine glory.
The statuette portrays a female figure with delicate features and an air of elegance. Her nakedness symbolizes purity and vulnerability while also emphasizing her status as a deity. As we gaze upon her, we are transported back in time to an era where religious beliefs held great significance for people's lives. This artifact serves as a tangible connection between our present-day world and the ancient civilization that worshipped Aphrodite.
Preserved within Nicosia's Archaeological Museum collection, this statuette offers us an opportunity to appreciate not only its artistic value but also its historical importance. It stands as a reminder of how art can transcend time, allowing us to glimpse into past civilizations' beliefs and values. With its meticulous attention to detail, this figure invites us on a visual journey through history – one that celebrates both human creativity and spiritual devotion.