Roman Period Bronze Sculpture of Isis-Aphrodite - X.0082
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 2nd Century to 3rd Century AD
Dimensions: 18" (45.7cm) high
Collection: Egyptian
Style: Roman Period
Medium: Bronze

This large, accomplished figure was hollow cast via the lost-wax method. Her eyes were originally inlaid. She is depicted in the contraposto pose, in which the weight of the body is supported by the right leg while the left leg recedes and is moved slightly to the left. Her right arm is bent at the elbow and is held in front the right side of the hip. The tips of the thumb and index finger meet to form a circle while the remaining fingers of that hand are spread. The circular form suggests that she was holding an attributed now lost in that hand. Her accessories include sandals laced high up on the ankle, an armlet, a broad collar from which is suspended a cordiform pendant. The pendant may be a heart amulet. An elaborate foliate headdress rising from a tiara-like base completes her accessories. The predominant form of the floral elements of that headdress are palmettes while tiara-like base is fronted by a uraeus, the sacred, protecting cobra of ancient Egypt, over which, in the center of the foliate elements, is a miniature composite element consisting of double ostrich feather plumes and a sun disc. Her long hair is parted in the center and coiffed in waves over each side of the head with its ends formed into cork-screw locks, one of their luxurious and sinuous ends resting on each shoulder.

The clue to the identify of this magnificent but uninscribed figure resides in her accessories and pose. The cork-screw locks, uraeus-fronted tiara-like base, and central ornament of the headdress in the form of twin ostrich plumes and sun disc are insignia of the goddess Isis in the Graeco-Roman Period. The position of other right arm and the contraposto attitude of the nude body with the position of the feet is a conscious evocation of the famed Knidian Aphrodite by Praxiteles created in the fourth century BC and best known from a marble copy of Roman date now in the collections of the Vatican. These attributes and attitude taken together suggest that the figure is a depiction of the Egyptian goddess Isis combining characteristics and traits of the Classical goddess Aphrodite/Venus. The syncretistic, religious tendencies of the Roman Imperial Period, to which time this idol is dated, enabled the cult of the goddess Isis to incorporated into it aspects of other goddesses of the Graeco-Roman world. So extensive was this incorporation of other cults into that of this goddess, that Isis was known to the Romans as the “goddess of a thousand names,” each name apparently alluding to the characteristics incorporated into her being from other deities.

The goddess may have functioned as an ex-voto dedicated in a sanctuary in thanks for a prayer answered or in anticipation of a prayer granted. Her full-figure resonates with overtones of fecundity, appropriate to Aphrodite/Venus, the goddess of love, whom the Romans worshipped as a alma Venus, ‘Venus the nourishing.” This aspect of Aphrodite/Venus is consistent with the fundamental role of Isis as the loving wife and nurturing mother. The figure, therefore, demonstrates the genius of the artists of the Roman Imperial Period who could combine into one and the same figure the body-type associated in Greece and Rome with Aphrodite/Venus, and the accessories specific to the Egyptian goddess Isis.

There are several images of such figures in public collections, that in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, however, being some less accomplished


The Brooklyn Museum, Late Egyptian and Coptic Art. An Introducion to the Collections in The Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn 1943), plate 24.

R.R.R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture (London 1991), plate 98, figures 1-2, for the Vatican Knidian Aphrodite. - (X.0082)