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Work Head of a female statue of the "idol with crossed arms" type

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: The Origins of Greek Art, the Bronze Age, and the Geometric Style (3200-720 BC)

Tête de figurine féminine

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
The Origins of Greek Art, the Bronze Age, and the Geometric Style (3200-720 BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This exceptionally large fragmentary head is one of the first and finest examples of the type of Greek marble sculpture that flourished in the Cyclades in the Early Bronze Age. The typical "Cycladic idol" takes the form of a naked female standing on the tips of her toes, her arms crossed over her breasts. Despite the many statuettes that have been found, their iconography and function remain a mystery.

Marble idols

The spread of bronze metalworking began in 3200 BC and passed through the Anatolian province of Cyprus before reaching the shores of the Aegean Sea and its many islands. This brought an end to the Neolithic period, or Stone Age. Paradoxically, however, it was in the Early Bronze Age - i.e., during the third millennium BC-that the first masterpieces of Greek marble sculpture were produced: polished marble "idols." This art form spread throughout the archipelago of the Cyclades (from the Greek word kuklos, meaning circle), centered around the island of Delos. Because of its perfection and exceptional size, this head from the island of Keros is one of the most important examples of this art form. The statue, which was originally about 1.5 meters tall, depicts a naked female standing on the tips of her toes, her legs joined, and her arms crossed over her breasts.

A mysterious significance

We do not really know what these figurines-incorrectly called "idols"-signified or their function or how they were originally presented. A number of hypotheses have been advanced and subsequently disproved. Some resemble mother figures, similar to Near Eastern goddesses of fertility. Others have been interpreted as images of the deceased, female protectors of the dead, or servants for the afterlife. They were not, however, exclusively used in funerary contexts, since they have been found in both burial and habitation sites and sometimes show traces of ancient repairs.

A geometric sketch

Pumice stone was used to polish the marble (two materials that are quite common in this region of Greece). The balance and compositional purity of the lyre-shaped head is striking. Polychrome was used to indicate the eyes, mouth, and for any facial markings, thereby highlighting the brilliant whiteness of the stone. This seemingly simple work is the result of a harmonious combination of volumes and smooth surfaces. Only the ears, invisible from the front, and the nose are indicated in light relief. They bring life to this face made of sensuous lines and curves, which were probably created with some sort of compass. The piece is a veritable geometric sketch, and the heightened sense of abstraction offered by such art stimulated the imaginations of many twentieth-century artists, including Brancusi, Modigliani, and Picasso.

Bibliography

M. Hamiaux, Les Sculptures grecques, I, 2e édition, Paris, 2001, p. 32, n 12
Greek Art of the Aegean Islands, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New-York, 1979-1980, p. 55-56, n 12, fig.
Mer Egée Greece des Iles, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1979, p. 56-58, n 10, fig.
Kunst und Kultur der Kykladeninseln im 3 ; Jahrtausend v. Chr., Badisches landsmuseum Karlsruhe, 1976, p. 473-474, n 200
C. Zervos, L'Art des Cyclades du début à la fin de l'Age du bronze, 2500-1100 avant notre ère, Paris, 1957, p. 159-161

Technical description

  • Groupe de Syros

    Tête de figurine féminine

    Cycladique Ancien II (2700 - 2300 avant J.-C.)

    Provenance : Kéros

    Type de Spédos

  • Marbre

    H. : 27 cm.

  • Don Rayet, 1873 , 1873

    Ma 2709

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Pre-Classical Greece
    Room 1, temporarily closed to the public

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