Physical beauty brought fame throughout the ages to the women on whom it was bestowed. The goddess Artemis in antiquity embodied ennoblement of form in ancient Greece, whose architecture, ceramics, and most especially their statues of male and female bodies are indeed for many, aesthetically beautiful.
Northern Greece in ancient times was home to the Olympian Gods, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, Artemis, Apollo, Hestia, Hermes, Ares and Hephaestus, who together with other deities were the subject of civic worship.
Artemis, the Moon Mistress, was a legacy of beauty personified.
She was the goddess of hunting, wilderness, wild animals and women – a protector of female children, from when they were born until adulthood and marriage. Her twin brother the great Apollo’s light shone very brightly indeed and so she had to fight hard to attain and retain her standing and presence.
Through the years my admiration for sculpture, which began during my teenage years, has only grown. It is truly my favourite art form.
One of my favourite sculptural images comes from ancient Greece, a statue of the goddess Artemis, whom the Romans later called Diana.
She’s slightly over life size and we could say the representation of her is very vigorous. This Artemis is in the Louvre Museum at Paris. There she stands with great authority, transcending time and space.
She is wearing her short knee length chiton, a draped garment, which is simply pinned at the shoulder and she has a himation, or cloak wrapped around her waist and is wearing simple sandals.
She is beauty in action, grasping the stag at her side by the horns as she draws an arrow from her quiver.
Artemis is multi tasking, ready at all times just in case she needed to punish the misdeeds of men, or to protect a woman from attack.
She held the deer as sacred and caught five golden-horned deer and harnessed them to her chariot. She was fiercely independent, a firebrand if someone incurred her wrath.
Actaeon, a beautiful youth was meant to have unintentionally looked upon Artemis and her nymphs bathing naked in a lake while he was hunting.
Poor Actaeon, he was severely punished. She turned him into a stag,
As an added punishment, she kept his mind human so he would always be aware of what was happening. Eventually he ran away from her only to have his own hunting hounds catch his scent and tear him to shreds.
Discovered in Italy during the Renaissance period scholars have ascertained that the statue I admire so much in the Louvre is a fourth century BC copy of a yet still earlier work, a bronze attributed to the great artisan Leochares. He may have been inspired by stories of the Goddess from Minoan Crete.
Leochares was an Athenian sculptor whose work is known only through ancient literary sources as well as ancient inscriptions and recorded quotations about him.
The Louvre statue was given as a gift from Pope Paul IV to the French King Henry II (1519 – 1559) and today is recognised as being that of the ancient Roman Goddess Diana.
It was one of the first ancient statues ever to arrive in France and would make a huge impact, none more so than on Diane de Poitiers, an ardent feminist, who was sure of her own worth, a child of her time.
She had beauty and intelligence as well as a strong will and a strength of purpose, necessary attributes for survival in the world of political intrigues surrounding the court of France.
King Henry’s lover, she transformed herself into his moon mistress.
The goddess was a perfect role model for her, although romantic notions would have demanded that you put aside some of her harsher stories and adopt her most known symbols and glorify them.
Diane de Poitiers had her highly regarded architect Philiberte Delorme (1510-1570) who was of central importance in France renowned for having established an essentially French version of classicism.
He used the symbols of the Goddess Diana throughout her Chateau d’Anet, when Diane de Poitiers was renovating.
King Henry II lent her his workmen and the royal arsenal was responsible for casting the great stag and dogs that crowned the portico of its entrance.
Next to Diane de Poitiers bed was the symbol for her lover, King Henri II in the panelling.
Along the roof ridge ran a crest of crescents; the knocker on the door was also a crescent upon a triangle.
While the goddess Artemis was associated with the moon in ancient times no ancient statues have been found with her wearing or sporting crescent moon symbols
Perhaps Diane de Poitiers was one of those responsible for giving popularity to the image of her wearing it in her hair?
It is a very ancient device dating back as far as records of civilisation goes and a symbol of growth. It is the first aspect of the moon following the full moon, and over the month expands its influence.
It also appears on Akkadian seals 2300 years before the Christ event and was used in the civilisations of Mesopotamia, Sumer and Babylon.
The Phoenicians eight centuries before Christ took it as far away as Carthage (modern day Tunisia).
It appeared on coins in Southern Arabia long before Islam and later adopted by Arab Muslims, and yet later by other Muslims.
It’s also associated with the Ottomans and Mughals.
Throughout her interiors at the Chateau Anet Diane de Poitiers used the crescent moon to link her initial D to the Kings’ H everywhere as a decorative device.
The tapestries woven for the walls reproduced fragments of the history of the Goddess Diana.
In the gardens Diane de Poitiers installed her now famous fountain, of herself as Diana the Huntress, which was laid out by Jehan Nicole who lived at Anet. Benoist le Boucher cast the bronzes.
Over the centuries the forms of female beauty for women to aspire to have been many, none perhaps who created more intrigue than Artemis?
According to legend the goddess Artemis never allowed herself to be conquered by love. Too many people were relying on her to stand tall at all times, providing a role model of strength, commitment and purpose.
Scholars, writers and artists for centuries have been inspired by her stories, including such 18th century French painters Jean-Marc Nattier 1685-1766.
He painted her a number of times.
Closer to home, his wonderful portrait of a lady in the guise of Diana is in the renowned David Roche Collection at Adelaide, South Australia. It seems Artemis held him captive for a long time.
The relationship of Artemis to the Virgin Mary in Christian symbolism is more than apocryphal. Both were virgins with celestial connections and people looked to them for help in times of trouble.
Artemis was worshiped in most Greek cities and for the Greeks in Asia Minor, especially at Ephesus in modern day Turkey where she became a prominent deity.
Two centuries before Christ the city of Ephesus was the fourth largest city of the eastern Roman Empire. It was famous for its Artemesium, library of Celsus, medical school and for worshiping Artemis.
The great temple of Artemis, called by the Romans the Temple of Diana, was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It housed the statue of the goddess depicted as a many-breasted deity.
Many copies have been found.
The ‘idea’ of her and her symbols such as the crescent moon appear in many cultures around the world.
Byzantion the city was established in 662 BC and also had as its patron deity Artemis.
When the Romans conquered Byzantium they understood its significance. Roman Emperor Constantine I (272 AD – 337 AD) rededicated the city founding it as a Christian capital.
Its symbol remained the crescent moon right throughout the Byzantine era until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
During the Middle Ages tapestry weaving enabled the creation of complex imagery on a large scale.
Images and symbols for and of Artemis were often woven into the threads of destiny’.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2013-2016