Goddess Cybele

A magnificent sculpture of the enthroned goddess Cybele cut from a block of fine white crystalline marble. The front and the sides alone have been sculpted: the back of the piece has been very roughly chiselled in the upper section of the back of the goddess. The rest, as part of the throne, has been left smooth but the surface has not been perfected. This indicates that the piece was placed in front of a wall or in a niche: it is a work designed to be seen front on.

Given her origin, Cybele is usually depicted in Phrygian clothing, although in this sculpture she is seen in the Roman manner: she is wearing a tight-fitting chiton similar to the tunic which was worn both by men and women in Ancient Greece and which was subsequently adapted by the Romans. Given the number of folds that have been worked one can image that the fabric was fine. Of great quality is the carving of the ribbon or cord beneath the breast and tied in a bow. This helps to outline her anatomy. A himation, worn over the chiton, passes over the left shoulder and falls diagonally. It crosses around the back and from the right it comes to lie across her thighs. Unlike the chiton, we see that this garment is made of thicker material falling more heavily with fewer folds. The left leg is placed slightly further forward than the right one, thus breaking the solemnity of the figure and creating a more natural pose.

The left hand is resting on a wide circular object half hidden by the himation. This is a tympanon, a type of drum like a tambourine used in Ancient Egypt and in Ancient Rome. It was the musical instrument most associated with the rites of Cybele in the art and literature of Greece and Rome. We read in the “Homeric hymn to the Great Mother” that she loved the sound of this instrument. This is supported by the iconography of Cybele as the Meter or Magna Mater where she is usually seen enthroned with her left arm resting on a tympanon, and with a lion in her lap or nearby, as in this example. By comparing this example with others conserved in various museums, with iconography similar to this composition, we can deduce that the missing right arm would be slightly separated from the body, and that the hand would be holding a patera, a shallow dish used in ceremonies and rites.

Two lions are depicted seated with upright bodies while guarding the goddess, one on each side of the her. She represents the superiority of Mother Nature, even over the powerful lions. In other representations these felines are sometimes represented pulling a chariot. The depiction of the lions is another element which allows us to identify the figure as that of the goddess Cybele.

Cybele was originally a Phrygian goddess, the Mother Earth goddess, worshipped from Neolithic times in the region of Anatolia. She was the personification of the fertile earth, a goddess of caves and mountains, walls and fortresses, of nature and beasts. Her Roman equivalent was Magna Mater or Great Mother. She was a goddess of life, death and resurrection. Her consort, who was introduced at a later stage, was Attis. She was one of the main goddesses of the ancient Near East cultures. In Greek mythology she is also known as Damia.

She is often shown in Phrygian clothing and wearing a crown in the form of a wall. She is carrying the keys that will give access to all the riches of the earth. She rides in a chariot that symbolizes the superiority of Mother Nature, to whom even the powerful lions that pull this must submit. At other times she is seen seated on a throne guarded by these same beasts, as is seen in this example.

In the Greek and Roman pantheon, Cybele is identified with Rhea, wife of Cronus (Saturn), and mother of the most important gods: Hestia (Vesta), Demeter (Ceres), Hera (Juno), Hades (Pluto), Poseidon (Neptune) and Zeus (Jupiter). In Greek mythology Cybele initiated Dionysus in mysterious cults.


- REINACH, Salomon. Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine. Tomo V. Edizione Anastasica. Rome. 1969. p. 116.
- Cybele enthroned. Staatliche Antikensammlungen. Munich. Germany.
- Goddess Cybele enthroned. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, California. USA. Inventory Nº 57.AA.19.
- Goddess Cybele enthroned. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, California. USA. Inventory Nº AC1992.152.37.

Related works of art

spinario_espinario_espina_roman marble_marmol romano_ historia del arte
Brauron grecia atica escultura infante niño niña
Cabeza monumental del dios Sabacio mármol griego j bagot arqueologia
egyptian bastet figure bronze egipto gato bronce

Consell de Cent, 321
08007 Barcelona SPAIN
(+34) 93 140 53 26

Monday - Saturday
10h to 14h
16:30h to 20:00h

Uso de cookies

Este sitio web utiliza cookies para que usted tenga la mejor experiencia de usuario. Si continúa navegando está dando su consentimiento para la aceptación de las mencionadas cookies y la aceptación de nuestra política de cookies, pinche el enlace para mayor información.plugin cookies

Aviso de cookies