The Joy of Museums

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Cult Statue Head of Diana

Penn Museum - Joy of Museums - Diana

This “Cult Statue Head of Diana” is assumed to be a cult statue of Diana because it is idealised, conservatively styled, large scale and discovered near Nemi’s major temples.  It was probably adorned with a bronze or gold diadem.

This statue was found near modern-day Lake Nemi, also called Diana’s Mirror, which is a small circular volcanic lake in the Lazio region of Italy 30 km (19 mi) south of Rome. The lake took its name from Nemi, the largest town in the area. Diana Nemorensis (“Diana of Nemi”), also known as “Diana of the Wood”, was an Italic form of the goddess who became Hellenised during the fourth century BCE and conflated with Artemis.  This lake is referred to by poets as “Diana’s Mirror”.

Panoramica del Lago di Nemi

Panoramic view of Lake Nemi

The lake was sacred to the goddess Diana Nemorensis (“Diana of Nemi”) and the site of the festival Nemoralia. Near the sanctuary of Diana were found a number of diminutive bronze statues of draped women and men, each holding libation bowls and incense boxes. Near the temple of Diana was the sacred grove of Aricia. Here there was a priest called the Rex Nemorensis who would reign until he was killed by a challenger. This practice is described in the opening chapter of “The Golden Bough” by James George Frazer.

In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt and had the power to control animals. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis. Diana was worshipped in ancient Roman religion and oak groves and deer were especially sacred to her.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:               Cult Statue Head of Diana
  • Culture:          Roman
  • Provenience: Italy, Latium, Lake Nemi
  • Period:            Roman Period
  • Date Made:    125 BC
  • Materials:       Marble
  • Dimensions:   H: 44.7cm; W: 28.5cm; D: 21cm
  • Museum:        Penn Museum

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Eustache Le Sueur [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons