Goddess Isis

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A seated figure of the goddess Isis carved from wood. The entire body is covered with gold leaf as the Egyptians believed that the gods were made of gold. On top of her tripartite wig the goddess is wearing her characteristic crown made up of cow horns enclosing a solar disk over a uraeus. The eyes are encrusted with glass inlay, giving them a certain lifelike appearance. The right hand holds and presses the left breast indicating breastfeeding. The left arm is bent forward with the hand as if it were holding something. The pose of the goddess suggests that she was originally breastfeeding the child Horus seated on her lap. However, the Horus figure is no longer here present. Given the complete parallel figure conserved in the Museum of Cairo, the missing figure here of Harpocrates might have been made from bronze. The scene shows the Queen Mother protecting the child and breastfeeding him. The piece is the same as multiple sculptures of Isis and Harpocrates from the same epoch made entirely of bronze.

The goddess Isis, according to myth, is the daughter of Geb and Nut, and sister of Osiris, to whom she was also considered to be wed. As a deity she was referred to as: “Great mother goddess”, “Great Sorceress”, “Queen of the Gods”, “Fecundating Force of Nature” and “Goddess of Maternity and Birth”.

Osiris reigned in Ancient Egypt in peace, harmony and with wisdom. The Nile fertilized the earth and the crops were abundant. One day, Osiris set off to discover other civilizations and left his kingdom under the control of his wife, Isis. Set, his jealous brother, felt humiliated as he thought that he should rule rather than Isis. When Osiris returned he was murdered by his brother. The goddess Isis, with the aid of other divinities like Nephthys and Anubis, sought out and found the cut-up pieces of her husband and put them together through special rites. After physical union with the god she conceived a child. The posthumous son of Osiris was to be the Horus-child, Harpocrates, who later, would wreak revenge on Set for his father´s murder.

As one of the main deities, Isis was worshipped in all periods in the history of Egypt, and it was in the final epoch that the largest temple was built to her on the island of Philae. The Greco-Roman world adopted her characteristics and associated them with Aphrodite and Venus. Another of her principal characteristics, her being considered “Mother of God”, would also be relevant in the cults influencing Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.

Harpocrates, the Horus-child, is a native of Heliopolis as the son of Isis and Osiris. He was worshipped in many sanctuaries, like those of Edfu, Thebes, Coptos, Mendes, etc., in which he was venerated in other forms adopted from Horus. Harpocrates is the living symbol of the rising sun at the beginning of spring. He was born after the death of his father, Osiris. He is represented then as a defenceless child whom his mother, the goddess Isis, had to hide in the swamps of the Nile Delta, to protect him from the evil Set, his father’s brother. But in the same way that the weak newly-risen sun becomes a powerful sun as it rises higher, the god-child became the powerful Horus, the avenger of his father’s death, fighting against Set. His mother, Isis, in this way changed him into the great Horus who reigned over men and gods.

PARALLELS:

- Sculpture of the goddess Isis breastfeeding. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
- Sculpture of the goddess Isis breastfeeding. Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, USA. n.1960.464.
- Sculpture of the goddess Isis breastfeeding Horus. Eyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

- Egyptian Art. Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore. 2009.
- WILKINSON H. R. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London. 2003.

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