With her big hair, wide staring eyes, fierce femininity, and air of the supernatural, this intriguing sculpture on display at the National Museum of Archeology in Madrid could almost be the doppelganger of the queen of gothic rock and postpunk, Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees. In reality, it is a rare depiction of a wealthy woman from ancient Iberia, dating back to the 3rd or 2nd century BC.
Unlike the bewitching “Lady of Elche” figure also displayed at the museum, the Lady of Cerro de los Santos does not portray a goddess but rather an aristocrat. Sculpted carrying a vase that contains an offering to the gods, probably of wine or honey, she is a rare depiction of a mortal woman, giving an important indication of how female members of the ancient Iberian nobility would likely have dressed and worshipped.
Many archeologists believe that it was a custom in Iberia for wealthy women to commission an artisan to create a sculpture in their likeness. This sculpture would then be placed in a temple as an offering to native deities such as Duillae, the goddesses of fertility, or Ataecina, the goddess of the underworld. This religious gesture was believed to secure good fortune, grant wishes, and ensure the blessings of the gods in both life and the afterlife.
Ultimately, it is impossible to decipher exactly whose likeness was sculpted in the form of the Lady of Cerro de los Santos, nor can we know what the woman was hoping to achieve by placing a sculpture of herself in the temple. All these intriguing details have been lost to the sands of time, but a consolation left to us by history is this wonderfully enigmatic statue that has survived the millennia intact.
Know Before You Go
You can find this sculpture in the "Protohistoria" gallery of the National Museum of Archeology in Madrid. She is located just across the room from the Lady of Elche. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The entrance fee is €3 if you are a foreign national or € 1 if you are a Spaniard.