Syro-Phoenician Shipwreck Terracotta Sculpture of a Birthing Scene


A Syro-Phoenician terracotta sculpture featuring a birthing scene. A nude female sitting on a stool is assisting with the birth of a baby from a taller figure. The facial features are worn, giving a more stylised impression, but a modelled nose is still visible. Both female figures are featured with prominent breasts and hair held back by a veil, representative of the Dea Gravida (“pregnant goddess”) type. Between the two figures is a possibly a third figure, perhaps the baby, which is now missing leaving only a hollow protrusion. The sculpture is hollow from the underside. Earthly encrustation covers the surface.

Date: 8th-6th century BC
Provenance: From an important Cambridgeshire estate, acquired on the UK art market before 2000, hence by descent.
Condition: Fair condition. Chips to the hands of the taller figure and left hand of the seated figure. Loss of the centre portion between the two figures. The sculpture is recovered from a shipwreck hence marine accretions are present on the surface.

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The Phoenicians were a group of people occupying the coastal region of the Levant. The name originated from the Greek word for “Land of the Palms” -Phoenicia. The Phoenicians however referred to themselves as Canaanites. They are known for seafaring and dominated trade across the classical antiquity, establishing an extensive network of commercial and cultural exchange with Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Like the Greeks, the Phoenicians were organised in political independent city-states, most prominently Tyre, Sidon and Byblos. A colony was also founded in Carthage which grew to become the capital of the Punic Empire. The Phoenician script was also thought to be the oldest alphabet, heavily influencing the Greek script.  However, the Phoenicians remain enigmatic to this day due to the lack of written records.

The Dea Gravida was a female figure possibly a goddess associated with procreation and fertility which originated from Phoenician culture. The Dea Gravida is usually depicted as a naked young woman supporting her breasts with one or both hands and a swollen abdomen. Her head is covered with a veil and she is usually seated with her feet resting on a small footstool. The city of Tyre and Sidon were one of the most important production centres of this type of figurines. Votive terracotta statues have been found throughout the Mediterranean, most notably in Phoenicia, Carthage and Cyprus.

Weight 805 g
Dimensions L 15.5 x W 6.2 x H 17 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For a depiction of a Dea Gravida type figurine,The British Museum, item 1880,0710.31

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