Statue of the goddess Athena

A powerful sculptural image of the goddess Athena worked in bronze by the lost-wax technique. Two of the rods or pins that allowed the piece to be fixed in a support or base can be seen protruding from the bottom of the gown. The base would have been worked separately. The possibility that this piece was an appliqué to be attached to some piece of furniture with these rods, should not, however, be discounted. It could also have been placed in a private lararium as a sculpture for the private worship of the goddess.

The dimensions of the figure are considerable in relation to the small ex-votos which are preserved with the image of Athena, the Minerva of the Roman world. The attire and attributes of this representation allow us to make out the identity of the goddess. She is wearing a Doric peplum which falls vertically but is gathered to form a big fold at the level of the hips. On her chest can be seen an aegis, the protective disk which Zeus had made from the skin of Amaltea, the goat which suckled him. He converted this into an attribute of his protective power, and shared it with his daughter, Athena. In the centre of the aegis, carefully detailed as an animal skin in the mould and later, retouched in the cold piece, we can see the Gorgoneion, the protecting mask of the Gorgon Medusa, characteristic of the representations of Athena, and also a symbol of protection of the peoples and armies under her guardianship.

Between her legs the peplum forms a thick and prominent fold which becomes the central element of the composition. In all the minutiae of her attire, and the piece in its entirety, carefully worked as a free-standing piece, the delicacy and outstanding quality of the modelling can be observed, as well as the special attention to detail. This is not very common in the series of votive statues that are known of from the entire Empire, most of which received shorter attention in their elaboration.

The figure is composed resting on the left leg as an element of support, although the volume of the leg can hardly be noted under the garment. The right leg can be noted slightly under the folds. The torso seems slightly turned to the right, an effect which is emphasized by the position of the head, held high and turned to this side. The precise modelling of the rounded oval of the face and the delicacy with which the other facial features have been worked, warrant special attention. The head is crowned with the Attic helmet, allowing locks of hair to protrude at the sides. Falling down and joining at her back we see two large plaits of hair, just below the end of the crest on her helmet.

For its typology the piece represents the theme of a divinity making an offering. In her right hand, which is extended outward towards the viewer, the goddess holds a phiale or patera with a central indentation, the omphalos. This is a shallow libation bowl, which forms part of the ritual religious art of ancient Greece. The left arm, falling down at her side, is slightly bent. When we compare this piece with the iconographic composition of other similar works, especially those from the east, the position of the hand, with the thumb bent outward, corresponds to the act of holding a circular shield which would have been held vertically, resting on the ground, such as that seen in the Athena Parthenos of Phidias.

The combination of the shield and the phiale is repeated in Hellenistic pieces, especially those of Egyptian provenance, such as the impressions from Cyrene, and a wide series of works which seem to be insistently repeated, forming a local prototype. This combination is not, however, unknown in other Eastern pieces of different provenance.

In most statuettes offered as ex-votos representing the goddess Athena - or Minerva in western reaches - offering a libation, the left arm is usually, however, shown raised up and holding some military attribute such as a lance.

This typology, with the variations already mentioned, refers lastly to models of monumental statues from the 5th Century BC, especially those of the post-Phidian work of the 4th Century BC, such as that which we know as the Piraeus Athena due to the place where it was found and which is preserved in Athens. In the details of its composition, it also brings to mind the Athena Medici and Athena of Velletri.

The quality of this work allows us to bring it close to the best pieces of small toreutic working which came out of the Romano-Oriental workshops where these statuettes were made, starting from reinterpretations or variants which, in general composition or in the details and concrete attributes, refer to those originals.

In Roman mythology Minerva is the goddess of wisdom, the arts, the art of war, as well as being the protector of Rome and the patroness of craftsmen. She corresponds to Athena in Greek mythology. For the Greeks she is the goddess of war, civilization, knowledge, strategy, the sciences, justice and skill. She is one of the principal divinities in the Greek pantheon and one of the twelve Olympic gods. Athena was worshipped throughout the entire Ancient Greek world and all of its areas of influence, from the Greek colonies in Asia Minor to the Iberian Peninsula and the north of Africa. Her presence has also been confirmed even in the vicinity of India. For this reason her cult took on many forms and even had considerable presence, to the point that her figure was synthesized with other divinities in nearby regions on the Mediterranean.

She was one of the most represented deities in Greek art and her symbology had a profound influence on the thinking in that culture, especially concerning concepts related to justice, wisdom and the social function of culture and the arts. This is still reflected and can be seen right down to our present time in the entire western world. Her image underwent various transformations over the centuries, incorporating new attributes, interacting with new concepts and influencing other symbolic figures. It was used by various political regimes to give legitimacy to their principles. It even influenced popular culture: her intriguing identity has given special support to writers linked to feminist movements, as well as anti-feminist movements, to psychology and even some contemporary religious movements have returned to worship her.

The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out from expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To extract the final piece the mould must be removed.


- Manifestaciones religiosas privadas. Los bronces romanos en Hispania. Madrid. 1990. pp. 231 – 252.
- BOUCHER, S. Recherches sur les bronzes figurés de Gaule pré-romane et romane. París. 1976.

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