The reasons of a symbol

IT WAS IN USE, AMONG THOSE ANCIENT PEOPLE, TO USE A "SYMBOL," A MEANS OF RECOGNITION

Archaeologist

Cava de’ Tirreni SA Italy

Teresa Virtuoso

The word “symbol”, from the Latin symbŏlus and symbŏlum and the Greek σύμβολον, means "putting together” - "sign of recognition." In the ancient language of the Greeks, the word symbol comes from the verb συμβάλλω "to put together, to make coincide," which is composed of σύν "together" and βάλλω "to throw." It was in use among those ancient people - - the use of a "symbol" as a means of recognition and control, comprised of each of the two parts obtained by breaking an object irregularly into two (e.g., a piece of wood); the symbols obtained were kept by the descendants of different families over time as a sign of mutual friendship. Today the word symbol represents any element (i.e., sign, gesture, object, animal or person) capable of arousing an idea in the mind that differs from its immediate, sensible appearance - - able to evoke through some of the aspects that characterize the element itself, and is therefore used to primarily allude to abstract entities difficult to express. The "Progetto Ceramica Donna" materializes and recognizes itself - - in essence, "evokes" - - through the symbol it has adopted: the mater - - the universal expression of a woman - - an image in which the essential aspects of human life such as fertility and procreation are embodied. The mater is the symbol of primordial feminine divinity; it represents the earth itself and its infinite capacity to produce sustenance for humankind; the earth also being the clay that the artists of the project, work, shape and transform into works of art. In the symbol of the "International Ceramics Festival," the stereotyped image of the mater evolves, and takes on an identity of its own to become a female figure seated on a throne, like the Matres Matutae statues now preserved in the halls of the Museo Campano of Capua - - they are an expression of the cult of the divine or deified mother, a cult strongly rooted in pre-Roman Italic populations. In the area of ancient Capua, a fortuitous excavation, funded by the Patturelli-Pellegrini family and conducted in 1845 around a tuff podium, uncovered, among other things, a complex of over one hundred sculptures in tuff representing mothers with children and some minor subjects such as bidders, parturients and standing or sitting figures: the Matres Matutae. The iconography of these mothers was so far from the canons of classical beauty that the first scholars defined them as "...so rough and monstrous that they seem like toads." Sculpted in the gray tuff of Mount Tifata, they were probably placed along the walls of a sanctuary belonging to a large necropolis excavated later in 1995. The sculptures constantly propose the same subject: a woman, dressed according to Greek fashion with chiton and cloak, adorned with bracelets and earrings of Hellenistic style, occupying a chair, often configured as a throne with legs and armrests and high back, holding one or more children (up to 12) in her lap and often wrapped in swaddling clothes. The woman sometimes holds the child to her naked breast in the act of feeding him/her. The sculptures often preserve traces of the original plastering that must have completed them in ancient times, on which in all probability further ornamental elements and details of the hairstyle and clothing must have been painted. Chronologically, the statues found are not coeval, but can be dated along a time span that runs between the end of the fifth and the end of the second century BC. At the end of the nineteenth century, the German philologist and Greek scholar Wilamowitz wrote about them: "...the women of Capua consecrated to the goddess their images holding children in their arms that they wished to be taken under the protection of the goddess, both as a gift of supplication and as a gift of thanksgiving; sometimes also consecrating the image of the goddess by a vast forest of statues formed around the sanctuary..." Since their discovery, the statues have been recognized as the representation of a woman offerer who gives to the goddess her own image accompanied by birthed children to propitiate divine favor and obtain her own health and that of her offspring. Albeit with many uncertainties, the goddess venerated in the sacred area is identified with the indigenous deity Matuta. The arcane beauty that transpires from the rough and irregular surfaces of these statues symbolizes life itself, the eternal cycle of existence that unfolds between life and death. With infants in their arms, the matres represent life that renews itself in contrast to the fixity of the gaze and the static body that recalls death. The woman depicted becomes the link between the human and the divine - - she is the one who divinely gives life but she is also the one who inevitably, at the end of the life cycle, cannot give herself another opportunity. The Matres Matutae, taken as a symbol of the Festival, convey the intentions of those who conceived and realized the project: women who work with and for other women engaged in artistic-craft activities in the field of ceramics. Matres are artists of international breadth, who through clay, continuously renew the gift of life by giving eternal breath to their works. Matres is the clay that is molded and shaped, cast to fulfill the desire to rise to the top, to the divine that belongs to all humanity and all time.

IMAGES

Museo Provinciale Campano di Capua - Collection of the "Matres Matutae," also known as the Mothers of Capua.
The collection has over one hundred and thirty statues, dated presumably between the 4th and 1st centuries BC.
Graphic reworking of the Matres Festival logo by Bruna Pallante and Alessandro De Sio (www.motive.ink)

RELATED POST

From Pandora to Matres

And here we are on a new adventure; a new narrative on women - - protagonists in their world dedicated to ceramics […]

The Venus of Dolní Vestonice

In July 2019, I was invited to give a lesson on “the chemistry of ceramic materials” at the First International School of Sciences Applied to […]

The mother earth of clay

Everyone knows the ceramic tradition of Vietri sul Mare, but few are aware that there is a clayey hill in Salerno whose activity of extraction […]
arrow-uparrow-right