Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cycladic Sculpture

Standing Female Figure, c 2600–2400 B.C. Early Cycladic II Period

Settled at least as early as the C6 millenium BC, the Cyclades are a group of around 30 islands in the Aegean Sea and to the south-east of the Greek mainland, so called from the word 'kyklos' ('circle') because they formed this shape around the sacred island of Delos, with its holiest Temple of Appolo.

The culture that developed in these islands is best known to me through the Parian marble figures, usually female, made there between for 3200 and 2300 BC.

Head from the Figure of a woman -Spedos Type, Early Cycladic II Keros Culture (2700 BC–2300 BC), Le Louvre

Female Figure - Early Aegean, Cycladic, Bronze Age, Early Cycladic II-III Period (c2300–2000 BC)

Marble Figure of Chalandriani Type (2400-2200 BC)

Apart from their obvious beauty, I think what initially captured my imagination was the similarity of these sculptures to some abstract modern works, like some of Constantine Brancusi.

Brancusi 'Sleeping Muse' (1909-10) Smithsonian Institution

Brancusi 'Torso of a Young Girl' (1922) Fogg Art Museum

The Cycladic sculptures show traces of having been originally painted. Scientific analysis reveals mineral-based pigments - for example, blue (azurite) and red (iron ore or cinnabar). As well as facial features, clothing, tatoos and jewelry were indicted. As in these mocked up (later) Archaic marble figures.

Which now puts my beloved Cycladic marbles somewhere in the zone between comic books and drag! I want my plain white abstract images back - with absolutely no paint-applique 'colorful' added realism!

But I guess I'll simply have to develop a new aesthetic, one more in line with the evidence of the actuality of third and fourth millenuim Greece. But it's going to be a tough job !!!


  1. Thanks again, Nick!

    ...and stop that! Those were the colours, right? I am much in tune with the colourless (i.e., marble-white) contemporary interpretation of these works of art, but I must confess they gave me an inferiority complex (since I was 11) along the lines of "neutral/colourless/one-toned" is Beautiful, colours are just so like 'our day and age'. But I love them as they originally were. Not camp at all. Just a first attempt at *enhanced* realism, perhaps?



  2. Hi Nick!!
    I saw Cycladic marbles in Athens, a few years ago: 1st thing I thought was: They copied Modigliani!!
    LOL LOL LOL!!!!
    Really speaking I'm reasonably sure the opposite thing happened: Modi was inspired by Cycladic art!!



    (I luv naked men, but I like these cultural posts too!!)

  3. Given that cycladic sculpture was mostly produced between 2-3 thousand bc, reckon you are pretty right about the influence being the other way! and as you say, it's beautiful to a modern sensibility - lucky to have seen some pieces - i've seen some in athens and in le louvre and in the british musuem - and each time i am bowled over by it! take care.

  4. they most definitely were the colours - the west has imposed a (false) aesthetic on the sculpture. they were more realistic painted and so away from the abstraction we admire - a feature of our imagination! big hugs my friend.