The myths say that the goddess refused to let the grains grow when her daughter, Persephone/Proserpina (Greek/Roman), went missing. Ceres was distraught. She wandered the earth looking for someone who had seen what had happened. It was while in this state she accidentally ate the filicidal Tantalus' son Pelops' shoulder, which she then replaced with one of marble. She also tried to make a baby boy immortal by sticking him in a fire, but was caught in the act by a terrified mother who didn't recognize the thoroughly disguised goddess.
Proserpina had been abducted by the god of the Underworld, but it happened so fast -- coming up, as the abductor did, through a fissure in the earth that closed back as soon as he had snatched the young girl -- that none of Proserpina's attendants saw what happened. Eventually, after Proserpina had been located, Zeus decided she could return to her mother, but for only a part of the year. When her daughter is with her, Mother Ceres is happy and the world bears fruit, but when Proserpina has to return to the Underworld, as she does each year, the world experiences winter. Proserpina's annual returns mark the beginning of the season of spring.
"Terracottas and Plastic Lamps of the Roman Period," by Clairève Grandjouan (The Athenian Agora, Vol. 6, Terracottas and Plastic Lamps of the Roman Period (1961), pp. iii-v+vii+ix+xi-xii+1-106) says that a statue of a woman holding a large torch would ordinarily be a Demeter or Kore. In the fresco depiction, Ceres carries what would ordinarily be a torch, but in this case, appears to be a sheaf of grain. Producing grain means it is the growing season, which we would otherwise know from the description of the fresco as an allegory for August. The goddess, who should be full of delight because her daughter is back, does not have a particularly happy or maternal aspect.
In her other hand, Ceres holds a pomegranate, the fruit her daughter ate while in the Underworld. It is because of this food consumption that the king of the Underworld can lay claim to Proserpina and she is obliged to stay with him.
An Italian early Renaissance or Quattrocento painter, usually said to be Cosmè Tura (aka Cosimo Tura or Il Cosmè) or a member of his workshop, with Ercole de Roberti as another contender [see Imago Triumphalis (Renaissance and Baroque Studies and Texts, V. 31), by Margaret Ann Zaho (2004)], painted the fresco from which this detail comes. The detail comes from what is called "Allegory of August: Triumph of Ceres," which is located at the Palazzo Schifanoia, in Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna, Italy.
Cosme Tura (1430-1495) was born in Ferrara and worked as court painter under the patronage of the ducal d'Este family. Tura was a founder of the School of Ferrara, a painting school that later produced Correggio. Tura's paintings included portraits, religious topics and mythological ones. He may have sculpted marble statues of saints, as well. "Two Sculptures Designed by Cosmè Tura," by Richard Stemp (The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 141, No. 1153 (Apr., 1999), pp. 208-215+226-228) describes Tura's paintings as inherently sculptural with illogical folds, angularly displaced limbs, and carefully manipulated chiascuro (contrast between light and dark areas). Some of these features of Tura's work are visible in this fresco detail. In Monthly Packet (1895), by Charlotte Mary Yonge, Christabel Rose Coleridge, and Arthur Innes, describes Tura's work as "deficient in grace and tenderness" -- perhaps, the non-motherly quality I noted. The book says Sir Frederick Burton described the work of Tura as fantastic, using odd colors, and lavish in decorations ("a passion for superabundant ornament"), and with "a limited perception of the beauties of the human countenance and form".
* "Our ancestors, O judges, ordained that the sacred rites of Ceres should be performed with the very strictest religious reverence and the greatest solemnity; which, as they had been originally derived from the Greeks, had always been conducted by Greek priestesses, and were called Greek rites. But when they were selecting a priestess from Greece to teach us that Greek sacred ceremony, and to perform it, still they thought it right that it should be a citizen who was sacrificing for citizens, in order that she might pray to the immortal gods with knowledge, indeed, derived from a distant and foreign source but with feelings belonging to one of our own people and citizens."
Cicero, For Cornelius Balbus
Written in connection with the March 21, 2012 Guess Who.