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“Female Figure” from Cyclades: Greek Island Group in the Aegean Sea

Cycladic, c. 2500-2400 B.C.E., White marble with traces of polychrome
This “Female Figurine” is from a Bronze Age cemetery in the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea located east of the mainland of Greece. It is a late example of figures called the Spedos Variety, named after an ancient cemetery site on the Cycladic island of Naxos.

This example is unusual in its large size, however consistent in the style which consists of a lyre-shaped head and a torso that is relatively flat except for the nose and the modelling and incised lines delineating the various limbs and critical elements of the body. This example retains hints of pigment in the face with red dots across both cheeks, the nose, and forehead. The pigment is cinnabar, a bright red mineral, which was very precious at the time as it was imported from outside the Aegean.

Faint traces of what may have been blue paint appear in the region of the eyes. There is also a single curled lock of hair which was painted on the right side of the head. It seems that the sidelock only appears on the Spedos Variety of female folded-arm figures. This marble sculpture is a fabulous creation of the Early Cycladic Culture and was probably associated with ancient Aegean religious beliefs. It has the most comprehensive distribution within the Cyclades as well as elsewhere, and the most exceptional longevity. All known works of the Spedos variety are female figures. Spedos figurines are typically slender, elongated feminine forms with folded arms. They are characterised by U-shaped heads and a deeply incised cleft between the legs.

Cycladic Figures originated from the ancient Cycladic culture which flourished in the islands of the Aegean Sea from c. 3300 to 1100 BCE. The best-known art of this period and culture are the marble figures usually called Cycladic “idols” or “figurines”. The Cyclades is a group of Greek islands, southeast of the mainland in the Aegean Sea. It centres on the island of Delos, considered the birthplace of Apollo and is home to some of Greece’s most important archaeological ruins.

Aegean Sea with island groups labeled

The majority of these marble figures are highly stylized representations of the female human form, typically having a flat, geometric quality. Depicted nude with arms folded across the stomach and the right arm held below the left. Featuring long, lyre-shaped head, a semi-conical nose, sloping shoulders, narrow arms, and rounded back.

In more recent time, artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Moore respected and collected Cycladic art as models of how one can create emotionally charged yet highly abstracted forms.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                 Female Cycladic figure
  • Date:                    2500-2400 B.C.E
  • Period:                Early Cycladic II
  • Material:            Marble with traces of polychrome
  • Dimensions:      25 1/2 x 6 3/4 in. (64.8 x 17.1 cm)
  • Geography:        Cyclades: Greek Island Group in the Aegean Sea
  • Type:                   Early Spedos type, attributed to the Fitzwilliam Master
  • Museum:           Honolulu Museum of Art

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“Honour is priceless and glad be he who has it.” Greek Proverb

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Photo Credit: By Haa900 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons