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Photographer's Note

There is an entire series of these enigmatic Cycladic figurines on display at the Louvre, but this is one of my favorites.

Early Cycladic art is divided into three periods: EC I (2800-2500 BC), EC II (2500-2200 BC) and EC III (2200-2000 BC). They are named for the Cycladic islands of the Aegean, which were first inhabited by peoples from Asia Minor, dating to about 3000 BC, who likely migrated to the islands on account of the wealth of resources, which included precious metals such as gold, silver and copper, as well as stones such as marble and obsidian, which was used extensively for tools.

These figures persisted until about 2000 BC, until the island became more heavily influenced by the Minoan civilization, based on the island of Crete. However, the figures had far-reaching influence, as they have also been found on Crete, the Greek mainland, and at Cnidus and Miletus in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), executed in materials not used by the original creators, including ivory.

Their purpose is open to interpretation, of course: as historians, our go-to explanation for their creation, as with other objects of ancient art whose purpose is disputed, typically involves fertility or a related religious function (most of the figures are female). The majority were indeed grave goods, so there may be some funerary ritual purpose to them.

To me, they resemble the ushabty figures often found in Egyptian tombs. Those little figures were supposed to "activate" in the afterlife, to act as a stand-in and to take the place of the deceased, in the event that the person was called upon to work or perform some other function in the afterlife. The figures did the unpleasant work so you didn't have to.

These Cycladic figures are thought to represent either the deceased themself, or, as the ushabty figures, servants, or possibly ancestors, or some type of doll, idol, or even to serve as substitutes for human sacrifices, as that was an occasional feature of Bronze Age funeral rites. Some figures are too large to fit into a grave, so their purpose is unknown. At one site, Dhaskalio Kavos, on the island of Keros, a large number of the figures appear to have been deliberately broken, but it's unclear whether the destruction was purposeful, as a part of a ritual, or simply because they were no longer valued and were simply discarded.

The figure in the photo is thought to date to approximately 2700-2300 BC (EC I-II), so it's nearly as old as the pyramids of Giza (!). The one in the photo is representative of the best-known type, a single, full-body figure of a female, with its arms folded across the front. This style is so prevalent that it has its own type: it's known as an "FAF" (folded-arm figure). Almost all were sculpted from coarse-grained marble.

Characteristic features include a smooth surface with a fairly prominent nose, geometric shape, female features and folded arms. Most are small, just a few inches tall, but some have been uncovered which are nearly life-size. The majority are female, depicted in the nude, as here. Most are made of marble, and some are depicted in other postures, including musicians (a harp and pipe player, specifically). Some are even seen in "groups": one example shows three figures, with two standing, supporting a third figure in the center, which is seated on their outstretched arms.

The abstract, geometric style is more favored today than in previous centuries, when the figures were considered to be the product of a "primitive" culture. In the twentieth century, however, they even inspired modern artists, including Picasso and Henry Moore.

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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1196] (2114)
  • Genre: Άνθρωποι
  • Medium: Έγχρωμο
  • Date Taken: 2014-11-00
  • Έκδοση φωτογραφίας: Πρωτότυπη έκδοση
  • Date Submitted: 2021-06-22 12:57
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Points: 2
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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 92 W: 78 N: 1196] (2114)
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