This outstandingly beautiful and well-preserved ceramic sculpture is a votive figure from the middle of the first millennium BC, and represents a Phoenician deity. It depicts a goddess standing on an integral base, which bears an offerings bowl (partly obscured by calcareous concretions), her right hand raised and her left hand at her throat. However, it is the quality of the artistry and the almost miraculous preservation which makes this sculpture so remarkable, for most of the details that can be seen here have been eroded in other examples. The face is exceptional, carved with a serene expression and a half smile, with lidded eyes, a long nose and rounded cheeks. It is capped with a halo of ornate coiffure, which in turn is covered with a long veil that becomes one with her robe, extending down to her feet. The quality of the drapery is also striking, with pleats and folds in the cloth running vertically beneath her left arm and down her legs. Her left hand is at her throat, and, unusually, it is possible to see what she is doing. She appears to be handling a necklace which is in such low relief that it would not be visible in 99% of sculptures. The significance of this pose is not understood, but it must have been important to the Phoenicians as it has been found on many female figures. Her right hand is raised in what is generally assumed to be benediction. The clothes are open in the midline to expose a protuberant abdomen and notable breasts; this combination of traits usually implies pregnancy, with obvious symbolic significance for fertility and fecundity. There appears to be a faint line around the waist and loins, denoting a second layer of clothing underlying the first in the manner of a Roman toga and tunic. The left leg is straight and supporting her weight, while the right is flexed as if she were relaxing it or walking. This is unusual as these figures are typically rather austere and linear compositions, reflecting the archaic style of Greek sculpture that the Phoenicians inspired and with which this piece is contemporary. The piece still retains calcareous accretions (which can be removed if required), which attest to its long interment in the Mediterranean. The back of the piece is almost completely plain, implying that it was always meant to be viewed from the front rather than in the round: this is usual for figures designed for shrines.
Ancient Near East