DMA Insight

Marcus Collection of Fertility Figures

The following excerpt appeared in the Spring 1983 Dallas of Fine Arts Bulletin.

One of the more unusual gifts ever to enter the Dallas Museum of Art's collection was received at the end of 1982. The Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Collection of Fertility Figures consists of 105 pieces representing a span of over five thousand years through time and across most art-producing continents. Art collections are formed for various purposes and from many viewpoints. Among these possibilities is the subject or theme collection, in which variations on a single concept can be pursued through many art traditions. According to Stanley Marcus, one of his interests in wanting this particular collection known publicly is "to get collectors to collect to an idea" and to show "how one gets into all different geographical areas through collecting one theme." The principal focus of the collection is the virtually universal use of the female figure as an image of fecundity. In many cultures there is a Great Goddess, or Mother Goddess, who is considered to be the base of all life. In others, images of youthful beauty or maternity figures serve the purpose of emphasizing woman's importance in insuring human continuity.

A fascinating element of the concept behind the formation of the collection is the appearance of closely similar poses at radically distant times and among non-related groups on different continents. Examples are the nursing mother and the frontal nude figure supporting or presenting her breasts. By contrast, these images of the eternal feminine find formal realization in a range of styles from the voluptuously naturalistic to the schematically abstract.

Some of the earliest Near Eastern and Mediterranean images are the so-called violin-shaped idols, in which the figure is a stone or ceramic silhouette whose contours most resemble those of a violin. The extraordinary scope of the Marcus Collection can best be gained through reviewing its chronological, cultural, and material-of-execution range. Across time these pieces run from a Chalcolithic Hacilar ceramic figure of the 5th millenium BCE to some almost equally reductive ceramic images from the Amazonian Karaja which are about twenty or thirty years old. Cultures of the ancient Middle East, Egypt, and India keep company with those of the Aegean Cyclades, the pre-Columbian New World, Africa, and the Eskimo of the far north. Materials of execution range through stone, clay, wood, ivory, and bone. The Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Collection of Fertility Figures is one of those gifts which will make its debut with the opening of the new Dallas Museum of Art. In the new building, it will be displayed in two ways. Half or more of the pieces will be presented together thematically to illustrate various of the concepts and visual forms mentioned above. Other pieces will be integrated with existing parts of the Museum collection to fill in a number of gaps currently there. As a whole, this will give a previously absent scope and depth of representation to the arts of many cultures from around the world as they manifested a central interest of humanity throughout history.

Excerpt from

John Lunsford, Senior Curator, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, Spring 1983, page 15.