Exhibit of the month
The Lady of the rocks
Ivory plaque with a seated woman in relief
National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Collection of Prehistoric Antiquities, inv. no. Π 5897
Provenance: Citadel of Mycenae
Dimensions: Height: 8.5 cm
Date: 15th-14th c. BC
Display location: Exhibition of Mycenaean Antiquities, Room 4, showcase M18
The relief female figure —most likely a goddess— portrayed seated on a rock, constitutes one of the rare specimens in the minor arts of the period, which offers a detailed picture of the Mycenaean clothing. The artist has endowed the figure with such vitality and elegance that we almost overlook the missing head and arms.
The goddess is dressed in the typical Aegean costume with the tight short-sleeved vest that emphasises her full breasts and thin waist, and the long, flounced skirt that embraces her richly curved body and reaches the ankles, exposing her bare feet. The loose girdle or double ribbon around her waist belongs to a type known from clay and ivory female figurines.
The skirt consisted most likely of a rectangular piece of fabric wrapped around the waist on which leafs of cloth (ruffles) were sewn —rendered here in relief— in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours, offering an extremely impressive result. Sometimes, these ruffles were decorated with gold cut-outs, mainly rosettes, sewn onto them, like those unearthed in several Mycenaean sites. In other cases, as seen in wall paintings of the time, a finely woven underwear which apparently covered the entire body, is visible through the vest. This costume, known mainly from the frescoes and the signet rings that depict noble women in public spectacles or priestesses taking part in rituals, constituted the official attire intended for special occasions.
As attested by the Linear B tablets, there were of course other, more practical, types of garments that served the needs of everyday life and included, among others, the short skirt, which was most likely also pleated, and a short, sleeved chiton, possibly identified with the Homeric pharos. The Mycenaean garments were woven from sheep wool or natural linen, whereas, according to a recent study, for the fine, almost transparent women’s underwear it is possible that the so-called “sea silk” was used, namely very thin fibres secreted by the Pinna nobilis seashell, endemic to Mediterranean.
Dr Eleni Konstantinidi-Syvridi
Boloti, T., e-ri-ta’s Dress: Contribution to the Study of the Mycenaean Priestesses’ Attire. Prehistoric, Ancient Near Eastern and Aegean Textiles and Dress: an Interdisciplinary Anthology, Harlow, Mary, Cecile Michel, and Marie-Louise Nosch, eds. Ancient Textiles Series 18, Oxford and Philadelphia 2014, 245-270.
Burke, B., Looking for Sea-Silk in the Bronze Age Aegean, Nosch, M.-L. and R. Laffineur (eds.) KOSMOS. Jewellery, Adornment and Textiles in the Aegean Bronze Age, Aegaeum 33, Proceedings of the 13th International Aegean Conference/13e Rencontre egeenne internationale, University of Copenhagen, Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research, 21-26 April 2010, Liege 2012, 171-176.
Jones, B., New Reconstructions of the “Mykenaia” and a Seated Woman from Mycenae, American Journal of Archaeology.2009 (113.3), 309-337.
Konstantinidi-Syvridi, E., A Fashion Model of Mycenaean Times: The Ivory Lady from Prosymna, Nosch, M.-L. and R. Laffineur (eds.), KOSMOS. Jewellery, Adornment and Textiles in the Aegean Bronze Age, Aegaeum 33, Proceedings of the 13th International Aegean Conference/13e Rencontre egeenne internationale, University of Copenhagen, Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research, 21-26 April 2010, Liege 2012, 265-270.