Roman Period Limestone Statuette of Isis Lactans

SKU: HQ.0076

Origin: Egypt
Circa: 30 BC - 320 AD
Dimensions: 7.25" Height (18.5 cm), 1.8 kg
Medium: Limestone

A limestone statuette of the goddess Isis, seated on a throne, in the act of breastfeeding her child seated on her lap, largely missing; the lower part of the head still partially preserved, of which the tripartite and scaled wig is visible; around the neck an elaborate collar, decorated with triangular beads; the body wrapped in a sheath long until feet garment (chiton), well detailed in the folds wrapping the sinuous body, with a cloak (himation) that covers the back and is visible on the sides of the cubic throne; this rests on a raised plinth, the sides decorated with engraved motifs.


From the private collection of a medical professional; formerly in the private collection of Prof Joseph Laissus (1900-1969), a professor of metallography and president of the French Society of Jules Vemes

Fair condition with losses as seen

The movement of the hand towards the large left breast identifies the subject with the goddess Isis Lactans in the act of breastfeeding Harpocrates-Horus, which the goddess probably supported with her left arm. One of Isis's most popular iconography of the goddess was that of a lactating woman, nursing her son, Horus (Harpocrates in the Graeco-Roman world) the god of divine kingship. Often the Ptolemaic queens were represented as the goddess Isis, but the lack of a face in the statuette makes any kind of association impossible. However, this was very likely a votive statuette. The abundance of statuettes in this pai1icular pose evidence some of the qualities for which Isis was most valued in the Ancient World: her role as a life-giver and protector. The image of seated Isis found also the association with her name, based on the original story, Isis being the Greek for the Egyptian word Js.t, meaning 'throne'. This traditional depiction of Isis lactans, born probably already in twentieth century BC, continued throughout the early phases of the Greco-Roman period and was especially prevalent during the Ptolemaic Period (330 BC - 30 BC). The subject was still represented in later ages and it strongly influenced the early Christian iconography of Virgin Mary. In particular it existed a distinct iconographic link between the Isis and Maria lac tans-type, as it is visible on many monastic pictures and paintings of the Late Roman Egypt, like on a funerary stele from Medinet Habu (Higgings, 2012, fig.8, although discussed as a simple borrowing of the Isis Lactans image for a dead woman), or on the paintings of the Monastery of Apa Jeremiah at Saqqara (Higgings, 2012, figs.9-10). In both iconography the lactans-image1:v is characterized by the invitation of the child to the mother's breast for feeding or nursing. Recent studies recognize the similarities in the iconography of Isis and Maria lactans without suggesting that a deliberate adoption took place between the cults of Isis and the Christian devotion to Saint Mary.

See similar images of lsis in Walker, S. & Higgs, P., Cleopatra of Egypt, from History to the Myth, London, 2001, items I.26, IV.10; see also various similar samples in Higgins, S., 'Divine Mothers, The influence of Isis on the Virgin Mary in Egyptian Lactans-Iconography' in Journal of the Canadian Society for Coptic Studies 3-4, January 2012, pp. 71-86, figs.2, 5, 7

Accompanied by an academic report by Dr Raffaele D'Amato

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