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Title:Lamp with the goddess Cybele and lions
Date Made:1st century CE
Type:Lighting Device
Materials:Ceramic; earthenware with orange pigment
Place Made:Europe; Italy
Measurements:Overall: 2 3/4 in x 6 1/8 in; 6.985 cm x 15.5575 cm
Accession Number:  MH 1910.8.C.B
Credit Line:Museum Purchase
Museum Collection:  Mount Holyoke College Art Museum

Buff clay, repaired spout, large mold-made, earshaped handle, discus with goddess Cybele on throne with turreted mural crown, vewil, and large circle (either a tympanum or a libation bowl) under left proper arm, two lions sitting at side with simple flourish by handle and spout; poor foot; fairly crude trim marks on the edges.

Label Text:
This small, functional, ceramic lamp is decorated with an image of the Roman goddess Cybele and attests to the broad popularity of the goddess during the Roman Imperial period. The cult of Cybele, the Mother Goddess, originated in the remote regions of Phrygia in modern-day Turkey. Her personal myth recounts her exposure at infancy when she was abandoned in the mountains and nourished by wild beasts, leading to her role as the goddess of the wilderness and all things natural. Her followers dedicated sanctuaries in secluded mountains and caverns and worshipped her in wild ceremonies involving music, frenzied dancing, and orgiastic rites.
Between the second century BCE and the fourth century CE, the Mother Goddess (conflated with the Greek Rhea) was transformed into the Roman Magna Mater (Great Mother), Cybele. Her rustic rituals with cymbals, tympanum, flute, and ecstatic dancing were similar to those of Dionysus and were readily accepted by the Roman people in a somewhat pacified form. The state constructed a temple to Cybele on the Palatine in 191 BCE, signifying her complete acceptance into the Roman pantheon. Her worship in the Roman world continued for nearly six centuries with broadly distributed images on coinage, votive offerings, and domestic objects like this lamp.
The relief on the discus of this lamp shows the goddess in canonical form: seated on a throne, heavily draped, wearing a turreted headdress (the mural crown) and veil, and flanked by two lions. She holds a large disk in her left hand, which is likely either a patera (libation bowl)
or a large drum. The lions reflect not only her reign over the wilderness, but also Anatolian origins and her role as guardian of tombs. Images of colossal lions are preserved even today in limestone reliefs and sculptures in Turkey—remnants of the Phrygian people and their fabled
king Midas.
Ceramic lamps are much like coins in that they are easily categorized by date and therefore play a critical role in dating archaeological strata. They originated in the Mediterranean in their simplest form during the seventh century BCE as hand-modeled open vessels for holding oil and became more elaborate and sophisticated with the introduction of the potter’s wheel and the use of a fibrous wick. Their purely utilitarian function took on
aesthetic ambitions as well when molds were introduced in the beginning of the third century BCE and allowed for elaborate decorative elements like the goddess image on this vessel. Roman Republican artists perfected this craft and founded a massive commercial industry. As illustrated in this image, the first step involved the creation of the patrix usually hand-modeled in clay or carved in plaster. Next, two mold halves were made by
pressing soft clay around the vessel and trimming it to shape. After drying the mold, wet clay was pressed into the two halves and joined by pressure; any excess clay could be trimmed after the molds were removed. It is unclear whether a trade network existed for molds, or if new molds were made and adapted after existing models. In either case, generations of vessels from a single original design are common across the Mediterranean
- Rachel G. Beaupré, Andrew W. Mellon Assistant Curator, December 2011

ancient; archaeology; pottery; containers; lighting; light

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