Dea Nutrix figurine; AD 150-200; Toulon-sur-Allier (Allier, France); 1988.4.109
Dea Nutrix figurineAbout this object
A statuette made from white pipeclay, measuring 150 mm high, 54 mm wide and 45 mm deep; there is no indication that it was ever painted. It depicts a young woman seated in a high-backed wicker chair with an infant at each breast. It was found in a fourth-century AD child’s grave at Icknield Way East, Baldock.
The figure belongs to a well documented group of votive objects made in Central Gaulish and Rhenish pottery workshops, known as the <em>Dea Nutrix</em> (not an ancient name, which is unknown) or nursing goddess. The goddess’s hair is waved on the forehead and around the ears, and is arranged in a plait across the middle of the head, with a chignon reaching almost from the nape of the neck to the top behind the line of the plait. She wears a long robe to her feet; it has a V-neck, is sleeveless and open at the sides to allow it to be gathered together in the front and expose the breasts. The garment falls in stylised draped folds around the legs.
A number of features of the figurine identify it as a product of the Central Gaulish factories of the Allier district, centred on Toulon-sur-Allier: the wicker chair is specific to this region’s products, and the presence of two nursing infants also betrays its Central Gaulish origins. The figurine falls into Rouvier-Jeanlin’s Type I C17; its closest parallel in Britain, in terms of hairstyle and general mien, is a figure from a Roman cemetery at St Dunstan’s, Canterbury. The Baldock figurine was probably made in one of the Allier factories, in a two-piece mould, during the second century AD. The seams resulting from the use of a two-piece mould can be seen quite clearly running up the centre of each side of the chair, and less clearly on the neck and head of the figurine. There are signs of wear to the mould, resulting in the ‘blurring’ of some of the detail, particularly noticeable in the reproduction of the wicker texture of the chair. On the left side of the chair, roughly half way between the plinth and the top of the chair arm, is a small hole about 3 mm in diameter; this was cut to allow the air inside to escape as it expanded during firing to prevent the explosion of the statuette. Carved stone depictions of high-backed wicker chairs are relatively common during this period in Western Europe; the hairstyle would fit a second-century date, and this time was the height of production (and probably export) at the pipeclay workshops. The statuette may well have been imported some time before being buried with the infant at Baldock in the early fourth century.
Hertfordshire Historic Environment Record entry .
Roman (AD 43-411)Place Made
Ceramic | PipeclayTechnique
Letchworth MuseumObject Type
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