Now don’t get me wrong, I have been LOVING all of the intel coming in from people who’ve been seeing Richard Armitage in The Crucible in London, but I thought I might mix it up a bit (not to mention that I haven’t had the brain space to do that comparison between The Crucible and Greek Tragedy) I’m returning to the familiar theme of showing you one of my favorite bits from the Classical Tradition…well, sort of, since these particular bits predate the classical world by at least two millennia. But what the he$$…it’s all ancient to you right?!
The figurine above is one example of a large body of similar sculptures which come from the Cycladic Islands of the Aegean Sea. They are known collectively as Cycladic Figurines. Examples of this type date to the middle of the third millenium BC. They are usually sculpted in local marbles and range in size from a few inches up to a few feet tall. I’ve always been attracted to the minimalist, stylized nature of these pieces. There is no doubt that they are meant to be understood as human figures, but the style leaves most of the details of the human form to the imagination.
Truthfully, a lot of our understanding of these figurines is rather murky. The ones with known provenance were found largely in tombs, suggesting some sort of funerary function. However, when mimimalism became vogue in the Western artistic aesthetic in the mid 20th century, these figurines became highly popular among collectors. This popularity spurred a flourishing black market for the figurines which was supplied by looting. Estimates are that 85% of the examples in museums today come from insecure contexts, and without this contextual information, we are unable to say much with certainty about these sculptures.
We can deduce a few things from the figurines themselves. Like the example above, the majority of these figurines are female – the emphasis on the breasts and pubic area of the figures is clear. In fact, earlier examples bear a striking resemblance to so called “Mother Figurines” like the “Venus” of Willendorf which occur from the later Paleolithic throughout the Neolithic period.
The exaggerated physique with emphasis on the breasts, hips and pelvic area has long been hypothesized to indicated a connection to fertility and fecundity. The Cycladic example is still heavily stylized, but the component parts are noticeably similar. The later examples (like the one above) are even more stylized, but on a figurine that has so little detail, the breasts and a clearly indicated pubic region stand out. This has led many scholars to hypothesize that like the earlier “Mother Goddesses,” many of the Cycladic figurines had some sort of fertility function. It is a compelling argument, but of course in the absence of a written record or information from the original context, it is virtually impossible to say this, or anything else with much certainty about these enigmatic sculptures.
I’ve said that the majority of these figurines are clearly female, but there are some that are male. Although a few of the male figurines are engaged in activities…there’s a harp player and a flute player…the majority of them take the typical crossed arm pose.
I’ve always loved these figurine… I’ve worn Cycladic head earrings, I’ve given replica Cycladic Figurines as gifts. In a city littered with museums of ancient and modern art, the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art is one of my favorite haunts in Athens. And thanks to Servetus, who noted what is now so clear to me, I have a new reason to love them – they bear a stylized resemblance to another favorite of mine,
I guess I’ve always had a thing for the long and lean…even in sculpture. (There’s also a certain a beautifully angular shared facial feature.)