|The Munich Eirene and Ploutos|
The First of the Great Statues of a Goddess with an Infant
Kephisodotos, who was an Athenian and came from the circle of the pupils of Pheidias, created for Athens in AD 370 a statue that stood for Peace achieved after wearying intermittent wars (see any standard history for those; this is about the statue type). There had been personifications in Greek art before; a red-figure vase-painter named Makron, for example, had labeled a female figure on a skyphos Eleusis, meaning the city of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and of course there had been hundreds of Nikai (Victories).
But this statue, which is named in written sources, stood in Athens, and Kephisodotos was the father of the most famous of the Late Classical Athenian sculptors, Praxiteles: it is no accident that the Praxitelean statue of Hermes holding the infant Dionysos in the old temple at Olympia does recall the tender but dignified pose of this statue (of which we have only copies). It represented Eirene (Peace) proudly holding Wealth (Ploutos). Not that she was in any literal way his mother, but that peace engenders wealth by fostering trade and, of course, good relations generally. No wonder that the two Greek princesses of the 20th century, Sophia (now queen of Spain) and her younger sister, Eirene—Irene in modern spelling—had been named Wisdom and Peace.
Once the Eirene and Ploutos of Kephisodotos became well known, and that was quickly, the adjunct infant became a popular motif, whenever appropriate, throughout later Greek and Greco-Roman art. It might be Aphrodite with Eros sitting on her shoulder. It might be a regional goddess associated in cult with a divine infant (in which case we might not know their names). It might be a special aspect of Tyche (Fortuna), Euposia, holding an infant just like Ploutos.
Made to stand outdoors, the statue by Kephisodotos was of bronze, but the copies that we have, mostly fragmentary but careful pointed copies, are of marble. Sometimes you see the Munich copy in photos of the 19th century with modern arms, but the only time we actually have arms is in a tiny sketch of the statue on one of those Panathenaic amphoras, not only prize trophies but containing a goodly amount of fine Athenian olive oil. Luckily, the Munich copy is one of the finest copies of the Empire period that we possess. I am sorry that I don't have new digital images of her.
Though the Munich statue is very well preserved, it has been smoothed, perhaps even before the museum obtained it, but we have of Ploutos alone an exquisite and never abusively cleaned copy in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. I particularly like my grayscale photos taken for teaching (so I provide the data given for my students) nearly 30 years ago:
Athens, NAM #175 Ploutos, from a copy of Kephisodotos's Eirene and Ploutos (q.v.), found in the harbor of Piraeus in 1881. The black-and-white photos show the delicate (also unretouched) character of the Ploutos and the genuinely infantile structure of his body and posture. The side view also shows the stump of the cornucopiae supported by Eirene's hand (only stumps remain of the fingers) under Ploutos's buttocks.
I also have some details in color:
I have always liked to stand in the museum, as the light changed (for this museum has windows), and try to envisage the whole statue standing in Athenian sunlight, in bronze.
Now, I promised this posting to someone who commented on my using La Vierge de Paris alongside the Artemis from Gabii, at the head of my last blog here in Opera Nobilia. I only meant that the graceful, swaying pose goes all the way back to the graceful, slender late Praxitelean pose of the Artemis, and that French Gothic was especially fond of it. But my correspondent felt that somehow it meant that the Virgin replaced a Greek goddess. In a sense she did—but not Artemis!
As we have seen here (and it is plain in all of Greek art), when an artist devised a new and useful and lovely composition, such as an adult deity (or an old satyr, for that matter) holding up a baby, every successive generation would endeavor to do its predecessors one better in exploiting the pose. Of course, it had to be a story in which it made sense.
When Virgil in his Fourth Eclogue, proclaimed a messianic prince, he was flattering Augustus, but from early Christianity onwards the Church interpreted it as they did Types in the Hebrew Bible: that is why Dante has Virgil as his guide in the Divine Comedy! And that is why, in the Louvre, we have a fine statue of a Julio-Claudian empress, usually thought to be Messalina holding the infant Britannicus; never mind how Robert Graves depicts Messalina in I, Claudius.
And it is such use of the ancient Greek beneficent Eirene holding an infant that boded well-being, all to flatter the Imperial family and keep encouraging the association of the empress with goddesses (as the Ptolemaic queens already had done, too) that links the Eirene and Ploutos to the many Gothic statues of Mary holding up the Baby Jesus, such as the Vierge de Paris.
My correspondent was a Protestant, and I, too, in a Presbyterian family was brought up to regard Mary as suspect, somehow, yet I can assure him that the sculptors, who traveled quite a bit, knew a good pose when they saw it, to convey the messianic idea. But they didn't think Mary was Aphrodite or Demeter or Hera! The sculptor working for Claudius may have had the empress as Juno (Hera) in mind, but the sculptors working for the 13th-century bishops and abbots certainly didn't! Even Bernard of Clairvaux would never have thought such a blasphemy. Not even John Calvin, I think.
I just located one of the early 3rd c. AD coins that show a Tyche (Fortuna) holding an infant like Ploutos and with her hand supporting the cornucopiae (horn of plenty), which the infant in turn rests his left hand on, so that the motif is very surely based on the Eirene and Ploutos of Kephisodotos. This coin was issued for Diadumenian, the son of Macrinus, at Nicopolis ad Istrum in present-day Bulgaria, but it is not the only one with Tyche Euposia shown as here.