Cycladic figurine

3rd–2nd millennium BCE
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General Description

One of the more enigmatic artifacts of the ancient Mediterranean world is this type of Cycladic marble figurine [see another in the Dallas Museum of Art's collection: 1982.292.FA], found mainly in western Anatolia or in the Aegean islands of the Cyclades. These abstract, mostly female figures dating from the 3rd millenium BCE display a remarkable purity of form, but their purpose is unknown. Originally, many of these objects were deposited lying on their backs in tombs or shrines, even though they are not usually displayed that way in museums. Although examples of the canonical types are known in ivory, bone, shell, clay, and metal, the primary material is coarse-grained marble, which is found on most Cycladic islands and is the dominant stone of some. The vast majority of recorded find spots are island graves.

The purpose of these figurines has been considered to be of a sexual nature, given their strong fertility elements. Others regard them as substitutes for human sacrifice, toys (although none have thus far been found in children's graves), underworld guides for the dead, mythical characters, or divinities, especially the Great Mother Goddess of fertility, although a number of the figures are male.

Adapted from

Anne R. Bromberg and Karl Kilinski II, Gods, Men, and Heroes: Ancient Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 43.

Web Resources

  • Khan Academy
    Watch a short video about Cycladic figurines, forgery, and their relation to modern art.