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Art of Human

from the
Iberian Peninsula
to the Indus

16 17
From the Atlantic to India:
geographic map and localization
of major cultures mentioned
in the catalogue

18 19
A World in Transition:
4000–2000 BC

he exhibition Idols, from the Greek eidolon, or image, invites the visitor to
embark on an aesthetic journey across time and space, to discover how art-
ists who lived and worked around 4000–2000 BC created three-dimensional
images of the human body. The vast geographic area extends from West to East,
from the Iberic peninsula to the Indus valley, from the gates of the Atlantic to the
confines of the Far East.
A tribute to the late Giancarlo Ligabue, whose multicultural interests are reflect-
ed in the exhibition, the journey will reveal a surprising number of common traits,
shared by distant people and regions, and compare local variants.
The date in focus is a period of transition, when late Neolithic farming villages
were evolving into the urban societies of the Bronze Age. Familial and tribal societies
changed into state-controlled societies. Economic mutations accompanied new tech-
nologies, the development of metallurgy, the invention of writing. Trade networks,
established for the circulation of exotic raw materials, connected distant people, over
land and sea routes; itinerant craftsmen propagated technologies, goods and ideas.
Standing steatopygeous
figure Metaphysical concepts were expressed through the visual media of anthropomorphic

Southwest Arabia
figures – the idols in the show. Considered here from an aesthetic angle, these idols
IV millennium BC are discussed on a consolidated archaeological and historical basis. Recent research
Private Collection, London, inv. 2131 is presented in the catalogue by specialists of international standing.
(cat. 48, detail)
The confrontation is about invariants, and variables, seen from the double angle
of anthropology and aesthetics. Paramount among the invariants or common fac-
tors is the artistic quality. The individuals who created those sculptures were highly
skilled artists, who traced their own narrow way, between respect for traditional
models and innovative creation. Because of the destructive action of time, we are
left with only a few examples of what must have been a much larger number of trial
objects, failures and success, working on specific materials – clay, ivory and bone,
wood, stone and, later, metal. In the exhibition, preference has been given to pieces
carved in stone, a more demanding medium than pliable clay, and better displaying
the artist’s individual genius.
Another common factor is the “life” these figurines had before and during their
last deposition, in the funerary or cultic context where they have been found. Traces
of repeated handling, such as weathering of the surface and the addition of marks
or reparations of breakage, are evidence that they were made use of and were given
a part to play in the course of recurrent social or religious events, linked to birth

20 21
and death, or the cycle of nature; there is evidence that they were necessary to the
owner(s), even though their meaning and function escape us.
A corollary to the necessity of these figures is the repetition of apparently simi-
lar figures, classifiable into types that answer to similar iconographic codes. Each
figure, however, is entirely novel and individual. The cylindrical eye figures and the
slate plaques of Iberia; the Cycladic reclining figures of the Spedos type; the “eye or
spectacle” idols type, distributed over a vast area encompassing Anatolia, Syria and
Mesopotamia; the “Oxus Lady” (the so-called “Bactrian princess”): each of these types
is known in many examples, up to hundreds in the case of the Asiatic eye idols. The
typology is the same; nevertheless, each figure is unique in its proportions, details
and charisma, through the personal action of the artist and creator. Such musical,
poetic variation on one theme introduces the visitor to the aesthetic appreciation of
a selection of iconographic types.
The earliest in the show is the ubiquitous steatopygous type, the so-called Mother
goddess, inherited from a long Neolithic tradition. Nude and sumptuously voluptuous,
she stood alone in the iconography of most of the ancient world until the arrival
of new visions at the end of the fourth millennium. Comparable examples from far
away regions – Sardinia, the Cyclades islands, Cyprus or Arabia – are also present
in the exhibition. The carefully balanced volumes of the different parts of the body,
emphasized here and abbreviated there, result in a dynamic and powerful whole.
Pregnant reclining figure

Early Spedos type

With the coming of the age of the first cities, ca. 3300–3000 BC, when an urban revo-
Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC) lution took place in most of the Old World, with the accompaniment of profound social
Private Collection, UK and economic mutations, drastic changes occurred in the visual media. Metaphysical
(cat. 14, detail)
concepts continued to be embodied in three-dimensional images, but the previous
steatopygous ideal was abandoned in favour of entirely new visions. The contrast be-
tween the two phases is particularly striking in the areas where it has been possible to
present examples of the two successive periods, as in Sardinia and the Cyclades islands.
Two opposed and complementary aesthetic avenues were then opened, one tend-
ing towards abstraction and extreme schematization; the other realistic, tempered
by idealization. Both aesthetics were often adopted simultaneously.
Abstract images, constructed in bold and geometric volumes, are not abstract in
the twentieth-century aesthetic sense. They are the abbreviated vision of the body,
leaving out parts of it, emphasizing others, principally the eyes and the feminine
sexual triangle, in a visual synecdoche (pars pro toto). Eyes, the seat of life and
identity, were in a different setting the focus of statuettes from Iberia, Egypt, Cyprus,
Anatolia, Syria, Mesopotamia. The sexual triangle may appear discreetly, at the hem
of a completely abstract disc as in the Kültepe disk idols or in the Cycladic Violin. Or
it may take over the whole body, as in the terracotta triangular idols from Central
Asia, a triangle endowed with eyes and breasts. Generally speaking, our abstract
images belong to the feminine genre, albeit ambiguously: they may integrate another
visual synecdoche: in phallic female image, whole or parts of a female body, the head
or the arms, are made in the shape of an erect penis. Cyprus and Anatolia created
masterpieces of this androgynous ideal: an impossibly complete nature?

22 23
1 In contrast with the abstract aesthetic, a natural but idealized rendition of the
Bearded figure carved from
human body appeared about the same period, the end of the fourth millennium.
hippopotamus ivory
Egypt One major centre of this aesthetic was in Southern Mesopotamia. The Uruk culture
V–IV millennium BC and its successors, named from the city of Gilgamesh, where writing was invented,
Museo Egizio, Turin
extended its cultural domination, over most of Western Asia. It marked significant-
ly the development of Egypt at the birth of Pharaonic civilization. Mesopotamian
artists created masterpieces of idealized beauty, like the “Uruk Lady” (Baghdad). A
type of idealized nude female figure created in the mid-third millennium spread to
the Levant and Egypt, and remained immensely popular until the end of Antiquity.
They were deposited in tombs and temples and may also have been part of domestic
cults. Most of these gracious figures were made of baked clay, with a few exceptions
in ivory or stone.

The comparison between the idealized aesthetic of Mesopotamia and that of the
Cyclades islands, in the Aegean, has not been often attempted: it opens new vistas
about the art of the Bronze Age in the third millennium. Artists in the Cyclades
made the best use of the quality of their local marble, as would their successors
of the classic Greek period. The iconographic types they created (ca. 2800 BC) en-
dured and evolved for several centuries: a nude body, arms crossed over the waist
protecting the belly, often shown distinctly pregnant (cat. n° 14-15). Although mu-
seums exhibit them standing, these figures were originally reclining on the ground,
their legs slightly bent, their feet pendent, their head tilted back, looking at heaven.
Within the constraint of the type, individual sculptors like the prolific Goulandris
master or the Sutton Place master (cat. n° 18) introduced infinite variations of
proportions and style. The Cycladic statuettes were deposited in tombs, possibly
after having served in public cultic places at the occasion of recurrent rituals: these
involved their repeated manipulations which left traces of usage and breakage on
the pieces, which were often carefully repaired. Cycladic figures were imported
and imitated in Crete and Anatolia.


Egypt had its own original approach to the Neolithic revolution. A small number of
graceful figures in painted clay survive; both male and female were represented with
explicit sex organs during the Badari (4400–3700 BC) and Naqada (3700–3000 BC)
periods. They never were quite as ubiquitous and quite as integral a part of ritual
practices, as in the cultures of the Mediterranean and Western Asia. Variously in-
terpreted as dancers, triumphant or bird figures, these uniquely expressive images
elude us as to their significance, social function and usage in the course of funerary
rituals (cat. 43-44).
They tend to disappear at the end of the predynastic period. Then, around 3000–
2900 BC, at the dawn of History, when the state-controlled organization that was to
become the Pharaonic civilization was in construction, the broadening of the social
and economic network encouraged ties with the Levant and Mesopotamia. A nude

24 25
statuette from Hierakonpolis (cat. 45), carved in lapis lazuli, a stone imported from
Afghanistan, illustrates the extent of the far-reaching network of exchange and con-
tacts between Egypt and Asia.
The development of subsequent Pharaonic iconography introduced portraits of
the worshippers, of the deceased and his family, at the time when Mesopotamia
was also opening the world of eternal images to simple mortal beings. The strongly
original aesthetic of the Egyptian artists influenced the Levant, a neighbouring re-
gion over which Pharaohs ruled for centuries, but otherwise the Egyptian art of the
human figure followed an entirely different path from that chosen for this present
exhibition. One single portrait of a slender, naked and idealized man (cat. n° 46) has
been selected as an example of Egyptian accomplishment.


The identity of the early anthropomorphic figures remained at best ambiguous. There
is a general consensus to understand the female images as expressing cosmic and
metaphysical concepts related to Life, Death or the Cycle of Nature. Early images
of warriors armed with daggers and baldrics from Arabia (cat. 52) or the Cyclades
were also ambiguous in their identity; it is unclear whether they represented real Torso of female votive
men in power or supra human beings, perhaps the male counterparts of the nude
female figure. Mesopotamia
Early Dynastic II period
(ca. 2500 BC)
With the development of urban societies in Mesopotamia and Egypt, in the late fourth Private Collection, Paris
millennium profound change introduced the images of simple mortals, unambiguous (cat. 73, detail)

human beings. They are there, alive, as worshippers, humbly devoted to their gods.
They are men, and also women, women as themselves, no longer as the incarnation
of feminine divine principles (cat. 73-74). The clothes and ornaments they wear are
the mark of their status, of their standing in society. Their identity may be emphasized
by a dedicatory inscription that preserves their name for eternity. wild forces of the mountains as opposed to the rich valleys, the cities and civilization.
As a corollary to the entrance of mortal humans in the world of images, new The Dragon genie of the Oxus (cat. n° 93-94), his skin covered with serpentine scales,
gods appear. They were created in the image of man, in a reversal of the Biblical was the savage counterpart of the protective Oxus goddess (cat. n° 75-90).
saying. Distinct deities, each with their individual personality and area of compe- Narrative scenes would depict warfare and triumph, hunting, religious ceremo-
tence, emerged to take their place in fully organized pantheons. The development of nies, social gatherings like the banquet feasts accompanied with music and dance.
literacy fixed in writing the mythology of these pantheons and the actions of these The exhibition presents elements of such narrative scenes, statuettes of female and
gods. To ensure that divine images would not be confused with those of the mortal male worshippers, gods, heroes and genies, focusing on the parallels between the
worshippers, distinct costumes, emblems and attributes were assigned to the gods. figures from Syria-Mesopotamia and those from Central Asia at the time of the Oxus
In Egypt, iconographic rules established at the dawn of the Pharaonic era remained civilization. To conclude the journey in space and time, a haunting terracotta statuette
almost unchanged until the end of Antiquity. In Western Asia, gods and goddesses, from Baluchistan (cat. 100) materializes the obscure communication between the
who ruled over Heaven and the Underworld, were distinguished from humans by Indus and Sumerian art at the end of the third millennium.
a special crown in the shape of a horned tiara and various attributes. Next to the Over the longue durée, across an immense space, people, artists – different and at
higher gods, heroes took part in the age-old cosmic confrontation that ensured the the same time linked by fruitful networks of contacts – expressed through enduring
perpetual cycle of Nature. They interacted with hybrid genies who combined in their masterpieces their anxiety, their hopes and their faith.
body a double animal and human identity: the Bull-man (cat. n° 67) symbolized the C.A.

26 27

here does figuration come from? Homo sapiens is in effect the only one
in the evolutionary line of humans that feels the need to “represent”, that
is, to depict something that no longer exists, that is absent. However, the
appearance of lines with no practical utility dates to long before that. As far back as
500,000 years ago, in Trinil on the island of Java, a male or female Homo erectus
carefully etched a zigzag line on a shell valve. Around 50,000 years ago, Neander-
thal Man, who evolved 300,000 years ago from the African Erectus who migrated to
Europe, left perpendicular lines etched on the walls of Gorham’s Cave in Gilbraltar.
More or less at the same time, slightly further north, abstract motifs were painted
with red ochre on the walls of Spanish caves in La Pasiega, Maltravieso, Ardales and
perhaps El Castillo, as well as in the prehistoric cave des Merveilles in Rocamadour,
France. The Neanderthal were also the first to adorn themselves with pendants or
necklaces of perforated teeth and to bury their dead.
Meanwhile, the Erectus who remained in Africa had continued to evolve, leading to
Seated female figure
the modern Homo sapiens between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. About 80,0000
with crossed legs
years ago, Sapiens traced perpendicular lines on small blocks of red ochre, found
Cyclades, said to be from Amorgos
Late Neolithic period
in Blombos Cave in South Africa. It would be another 40,0000 years, however – the
(V–IV millennia BC) time required for their mental faculties to become more complex – before men cre-
Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, ated the first figurative representations. This was accomplished at the two extremes
Brussels, inv. A.3029
of Eurasia – in Western Europe on one end and Indonesia on the other. The most
(cat. 9, detail)
ancient paintings of all were found In Indonesia, with depictions of animals – a pig-
deer and local non-ruminants – and hands printed on the walls. The theme of the
hand, in both positive and negative, would be found later in all areas of the world.
No doubt, this represented a way for human beings to leave their trace, using a part
of themselves from which they were able to take some distance.


In Western Europe, figurative art makes its first appearance in Chauvet Cave in
France and the caves of the Swabian Jura, such as Hohle Fels and Hohlenstein in
Germany, in the form of stone or ivory sculptures depicting animals or in some cases
female figures. Chauvet Cave harbours four hundred painted animals and only one
human figure, represented by a pubic triangle with the head of a bison. For 30,000
years, animals and naked women with exaggerated sexual attributes would continue

to be the preferred subjects of prehistoric art; tens of thousands of animal depictions 1
Nude steatopygous figure seated
have been found and hundreds of women (versus the extremely rare representations
on a throne flanked by felines
of men). Catal Huyuk, Turkey
What is the motive for these representations? On the one hand, Paleolithic hunt- VI millennium BC
Painted clay
er-gatherers, whose minds were almost identical to ours, considered themselves an
Anadolu Medeniyetler Muzesi, Ankara
animal species like the others and certainly not the most dangerous. Consequently,
they maintained a close bond with animals, as do many traditional populations that
practice totemism, believing that each clan descends from a mythic ancestor with
an animal nature.
Furthermore, Sapiens were the first and only species of primates (or mammals)
with a continuous sexuality, uninterrupted by regular intervals of infertility. This
resulted in a state of permanent social tension, as testified in ancient texts such as
The Iliad, full of sexual transgressions, or the Roman myth of the Rape of the Sa-
bines. This condition is also expressed in iconography, with, for example, the rape
of the Lapiths by the Centaurs or battles with Amazons, women who wanted to do
without men. As recent events remind us, this constant tension between the sexes
has persisted in all societies right up to our day. Thus it is reasonable to think that,
rather than evoking “fertility”, these prehistoric statuettes of nude female figures
express a particular conception of sexuality. Beyond that, not much more can be said.



While these themes persist, they are transformed with the Neolithic revolution and
the invention of agriculture and animal husbandry, introduced 12,000 years ago in
the Near East and independently in other areas of the world. Animals are still rep-
resented, but now mostly wild animals, like the urus of Çatalhöyük depicted 8,000
years ago in frescoes and in authentic ornaments made of clay. This would continue
into historical epochs, as in the hunting scenes on Assyrian bas-reliefs. In Egypt,
however, some divinities had a half-human, half-animal body (falcon, cow, crocodile,
etc.), just as they did in India.
The exhibition at the Giancarlo Ligabue Foundation gathers numerous objects
testifying to the ongoing representation of the female body with manifest sexual
attributes during the Neolithic period, from Sardinia and India to Greece and Ara-
bia. The Neolithic revolution was quickly superseded, however, during the fourth
millennium, by a new, even more radical revolution – the urban revolution and its
far-reaching consequences. Thus the world’s first states formed in a succession of typically with weapons. War became a constant concern that was constantly por-
civilizations, beginning with Egypt, passing through Mesopotamia, Iran and Central trayed, and so it remains. In effect, statues of “great men” or monuments to the dead
Asia to reach India, followed shortly thereafter by China and the Americas. with victorious warriors or wounded soldiers in the centre of squares only perpet-
In these societies with their organization increasingly hierarchical, their cities uate this tradition, in democracies as well as authoritarian regimes. Meanwhile,
planned from above and resources centralized, the visible power became definitively the female body continues to be profusely represented, only now in an art that has
male. While love and sexuality remained relevant and continued as the prerogative of become “secular” and commercial, in billboards and magazines. The long story that
particular divinities, such as Inanna in Mesopotamia and later Aphrodite in Greece, began 40,000 years ago has not ended yet.
the majority of figural representations were of male divinities and male sovereigns, D.J-P.

32 33

he history of seafaring in the Mediterranean goes back to the hunter-gather-
ers of the Palaeolithic times. Middle Palaeolithic stone tools, dating to more
than 50,000 years, have been found on some Aegean islands, and there are
claims for even earlier navigation. Seafaring seemingly intensified around 10,000
BC, with groups of hunter-gatherer-fishermen conducting hunting expeditions on
Cyprus, exploiting obsidian, a natural glass of volcanic origins from Milos in the
Cyclades and Giali in the Dodecanese, and settling in Crete and on several Aegean
This long-standing familiarity with the sea explains why, when the first farmers
of the Levant and Anatolia started expanding out of their initial homes, the Mediter-
ranean immediately became a major route of expansion. Travels by sea offer major
advantages compared to land travels, not so much in terms of speed but because,
at a time when wheels and carts were not yet in use, they permitted to carry heav-
ier loads and avoided repeated negotiations or conflicts with the locals around the
female Geometric figure route. No craft of this period has been preserved, but sturdy reed boats – such as
Sardinia, Turriga (Senorbì) the Papyrella (fig. 1, “papyrus boat”) that was experimented from Attica to Milos, or
Late Neolithic (V–IV millennia BC) long dug-outs carved in massive tree-trunks, as the canoe excavated at La Marmot-
Polo Museale della Sardegna –
ta (5450 BC) near Rome – ten meters long can be envisioned. They were large and
Museo Archeologico Nazionale,
Cagliari, inv. 135887 reliable to transport not only families of farmers, but also their crops and domestic
(cat. 7, detail) animals, sometimes even wild ones.
Cyprus was the first island colonised by farmers, in the ninth millennium BC. Con-
tinental Greece and Crete were reached at the beginning of the seventh millennium.
The dynamics of expansion accelerated in the early sixth millennium along the north-
ern shores of the Mediterranean, reaching Spain around 5700 BC. The expansion
was rapid but not continuous: in a process of “leap-frogging”, these farmers targeted
selected alluvial plains or basins, often far one from the other and neglected hilly or
mountainous stretches. They did not expand along the African shores, except for a
small enclave around Tangier settled by groups coming from Spain around 5600 BC.
Archaeogenetic studies confirm the Near Eastern or Anatolian origin of the groups
that settled in Greece, Italy, France and Spain, even if these – probably small – groups
of colonists sometimes intermarried with local hunter-gatherers.
The expansion of the Neolithic profoundly transformed the coastal landscapes
and ways of life: sedentary villages were built on fertile alluvial soils; domestic sheep,
goats, pigs and cattle were introduced into Europe; the soil was tilled and crops of

1 some obsidian bladelets travelled all the way from Lipari to Provence. If regional
Papyrus reed boat of a type used
trade networks were soon established, the long-distance transfer of goods during
by Neolithic seafarers across the
Mediterranean this early period was still in part linked to the high mobility of the group of farmers
that expanded across the Mediterranean basin.
These long-distance movements of population ceased in the mid-sixth millennium,
when most of the coasts were colonised. The obsidian trade was mainly regional and
the long-distance transfers no longer reached the French coasts. Corsica, devoid of
good flakeable raw materials, provided itself in flint and obsidian from nearby Sar-
dinia, with which it exchanged serpentinite bracelets. Symmetrically, rare artefacts
from highly valued continental raw materials started to reach the islands: alpine
jades (jadeitite, omphacite and eclogite) arrived in Southern Italy as pebbles and
polished blades, and from there in Sicily and even Malta.
Land and sea routes expanded again during the fifth millennium, which wit-
nessed an important development of specialised productions and long-distance trade.
The obsidians from Lipari and from Sardinia were distributed from the Adriatic to
Provence, and a blade from Monte Arci in Sardinia was found in burials from the
Gava mine in Catalogna. Contrary to what we observed in the Aegean, obsidian
does not seem to have been distributed by itinerant specialists. Instead, regional
grains and pulses were grown; and a whole range of new techniques were brought groups controlled the sources and distributed in quantity blocks of obsidian to “cen-
along, such as pottery, weaving, stone polishing, etc. tral places”, which then redistributed it. The same holds true in Southern Italy and
By 5500 BC farming groups had settled along all the Northern Mediterranean Sardinia for the miniature blades in alpine jadeitite, mostly deposited in ritual caves
coasts and all the major islands were colonised: Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Crete and of and exceptional burials, sometimes covered with ochre. Trade to the islands was
course Cyprus. Although most of the smaller islands remained uninhabited, several equally intense: the community that had by then settled on Lipari received miniature
were exploited for their mineral resources and became the node of long-ranging polished alpine blades, high-quality painted pottery and copper ore that was locally
trade networks that connected groups of different cultural traditions. The earliest smelted. Far from their sources, the obsidian blades and bladelets had acquired
network, already established by 6500 BC, was centred around the obsidian from some symbolic value and were often found in burials.
Milos and certainly benefitted from the knowledge of the sources by local Mesolithic The fourth millennium witnessed shifts and probable competition in interaction
groups. It encompassed the Anatolian coast to the northwest, Thessaly to the north, networks. The Sardinian sources, controlled by the Ozieri groups, exported painted
and Crete to the south, where obsidian was distributed and worked by highly skilled pottery to the continent and took over the exclusive long-distance trade in obsidian
itinerant specialists. During their excursions in the Cyclades they also would occa- to Provence, while the Lipari network markedly extended north to the Po valley and
sionally provision continental farmers with marble from Naxos and jadeitite from Liguria. During the same period, Pantelleria continued to provide obsidian to the
Syros. Settlements from both sides of the Aegean thus shared the same sources of North African Coast, to Malta and at least in one occasion to Southern France. Many
obsidian, and some of the techniques to produce the blades and bladelets. This did continental resources were also traded: Malta, devoid of mineral resources, also
not lead, however, to cultural homogenisation, probably because the contacts were obtained flint, basalt axes and ochre from Sicily, obsidian from Lipari, nephrite and
indirect. On the other hand, the striking similarities between anthropomorphic figu- quartzite axes from Calabria, nephrite and serpentinites from Lucania and miniature
rines from Greece and the Levant raises the possibility of repeated contacts between celts in alpine jadeitite.
early settlers and their homeland, even if this example remains isolated. No similar competition can be perceived in the Aegean, where there is no evi-
When migrant farmers reached the Western Mediterranean basin, in the early dence that the mineral sources were controlled. The fifth millennium witnessed an
sixth millennium, they again actively searched for obsidian sources, even on unin- intensification and diversification of regional trade once the smaller islands were
habited islands. colonised. The colonisation of the Cycladic islands offered the possibility of direct
As soon as they settled in Southern Italy, the sources from Lipari and Pantelleria procurement at the source and subsequent redistribution by nearby islanders, sub-
provided abundant obsidian to Southern Italy, Sicily and the Eastern Maghreb. Soon stantially increasing the quantity of obsidian in circulation in a wide “direct pro-
after, Palmarollan obsidian reached Liguria and the Languedoc, in the latter case curement zone”. Itinerant specialists continued to provision more distant regions, in
seemingly brought by colonists coming respectively from Latium and Liguria, and lesser quantity. Despite its poorer quality, the obsidian from Giali, in the Dodecanese,

36 37
was modestly exploited in the surrounding islands, and a few flakes were found in
Western Anatolian, the Cyclades and Crete. Emeri, polished metabauxite and jadeitite
celts from Naxos and Syros circulated in nearby Cycladic islands, and also reached
Keos, Euboeia and Lesbos. Handsome conical marble beakers were found on Keos,
Samos, Naxos and as far north as Varna in Bulgaria. The raw materials have not
been analysed and their source(s) is unknown, but their similarity with the beakers
produced at Kulakzızlar in Aegean Turkey (where later Kilia marble figurines would
be produced) minimally demonstrates contacts, if not exchange. Schematic marble
figurines and marble figurine heads also became abundant. Unfortunately, their
origin is unknown.
It is also possible that the Cycladic copper, silver and lead ores were locally worked
and traded in the late fifth and fourth millennium. Smelting copper is attested in the
fourth millennium on the small island of Giali in the Dodecanese, and the copper
and silver ores from Lavrion were smelted, possibly earlier at Kephala on Keos and
Kitsos in Attica. However, the golden strip found at the Zas cave on Naxos must be
an import from the Balkans.
During the fourth millennium, Western Anatolia, so far actively involved in Aege-
an trade, seems to have favoured inland contacts with the East. Further south, the
Seated figure Northern Levant was also looking East, towards Mesopotamia, while the Southern
with head ornament Levant maintained contacts with Egypt. Nevertheless, many goods must have trav-
Sardinia, Cuccuru s’Arriu, Cabras elled by coastal routes between the southern coast of Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt
Tomb 386 (in particular metal ores and Anatolian obsidian). However, since none of these re-
Neolithic period (V millennium)
sources are insular, inland trade routes cannot be ruled out. Indeed, during all these
Polo Museale della Sardegna – Museo
Archeologico Nazionale, Cagliari, millennia, Cyprus, despite being the first island colonised by farmers from the Levant,
inv. 182227 remained “reticent”, as termed by Cyprian Broodbank, to external contacts and trade.
(cat. 6, detail)
Cyprus’s isolation would come to an end later in the Bronze Age and the picture
of seafaring, long-range interaction and trade in the Eastern Mediterranean would
become profoundly altered. The contrast between the Neolithic and Bronze Age in
fact holds true for the whole Mediterranean basin. After the seventh and early sixth
millennium, when seafaring colonists scouted the Mediterranean from East to West
and linked its two extremities, the Mediterranean sea as such no longer existed in
the Neolithic. Multiple invisible but impassable frontiers were created that segmented
the Mediterranean into multiple smaller basins. The Eastern and Western Mediter-
ranean became isolated from one another and there was little contact between the
Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic, or the Aegean and the Levant. The reopening of these
frontiers would be achieved in the Bronze Age, probably helped by important inno-
vations in boat craftsmanship.

Bibliography: Perlès 1992, pp. 115–164; Guilaine Pétrequin 2012; Ammerman, Davies 2013; Broodbank
1994; Broodbank 2000; Borrell, Borrell, Bosch, Clop, 2013; Bindre 2015, pp. 369–386; Pétrequin, Gauthier,
Molist 2012; Pétrequin, Cassen, Errera, Sheridan, Pétrequin 2017.

38 39
From the Heart of Anatolia
to Mesopotamia


mages of nude women are well documented among the artefacts found in many
Anatolian Neolithic sites. The best known example is the statuette depicting a
mature woman sitting naked on a leopard throne found at Çatalhöyük. She was
thought to represent either a goddess, the so called “Mistress of Animals”, or a
member of the élite in Çatalhöyük society; in fact, her corpulence is seen combined
with an elaborate seat and hence would suggest that she held a high social position.
Female statuettes continued to be made in Anatolia during the fourth and third
millennia BC. The so-called “Kilia Statuettes” are made of marble and are charac-
terized by their violin shape, with large heads and flat bodies; a marked incision
stresses the pubic triangle. Although the vast majority of the Kilia statuettes come
from sites in the region of West Anatolia, some exemplars were discovered also at
Kirşehir in Central Anatolia. However, these were not made locally, but presumably
reached Kirşehir as a consequence of the trade relations between Central Anatolian
Eye idol with inner
small idol villages and other sites farther west.
Western Asia
Several anthropomorphic figurines were brought to light at Alaca Höyük in bur-
3300–3000 BC ials datable to the Early Bronze Age. They are reproductions of nude women made
Ligabue Collection, Venice of clay or metal. Some of these images have naturalistic features, whereas others
(cat. 53, detail)
are simply schematic figures. A contemporary metal figurine found at Hasanoglan
comes complete with a golden mask and golden jewels. The naturalistic aspect of such
images is also a characteristic of the metal statuette that represents a woman with
child at her breast, which was found at Horozetepe. These figurines have a particular
Anatolian character that distinguishes them from other, more abstract contemporary
statuettes coming from Mesopotamian and Aegean sites. Alabaster figurines datable
to the Early Bronze Age come from the Anatolian site of Kültepe, and almost all the
stone figurines were discovered in a grave. Circular in shape, the figurines echo the
violin-shaped ones from Kilia, although there is no direct connection between the
two groups of statuettes.
The Early Bronze Age metal and stone statuettes are usually associated with
burials (like those found at Alaca Höyük, Demircihüyük, Kültepe, etc.), whereas the
clay figurines mostly come from domestic contexts, such as houses and courtyards.
The diffusion of idols made of stone or metal can be connected to the emergence
of leading individuals, who controlled the circulation of these precious materials.

40 41
Both the residential megara buildings at Kültepe and the élite burials, such as those Idols” refer to, is difficult to ascertain, and we do not know whether they represent-
found at Alaca Höyük, support the assumption that even the metal figurines were ed a specific goddess. In spite of this, the “Eye Idols” have attracted the attention of
prestigious display objects. The naturalistic aspect of some of these images, which researchers for decades and also had a certain “hypnotic effect” over people who
distinguishes them from the more abstract clay figurines, could also be a distinctive made of the “Eye Idols” a universal female symbol diffused all over the ancient world.
trait of the objects belonging to members of the elite. Later, the interpretation of the “Eye Idols” as cult images was challenged by Cath-
Statuettes were also found at Kültepe in the levels of the first centuries of the erine Breniquet (1996) and Annie Caubet (2006), who suggested that these objects
second millennium BC. They are made of ivory or metal and reproduce naked god- might have had a practical function, used perhaps as textile tools, like those seen
desses depicted with hands under their breasts. The figurines discovered in the on some Uruk seals.
phase Kültepe Ib, which corresponds to the Assyrian Colony period, show specific The site of Habuba Kabira in Western Syria was once a Uruk “colony”, briefly
iconographic characters, which can also be found in the Hittite plastic artefacts, such occupied during the Late Uruk period. It was eventually abandoned as a consequence
as the round face, a big nose and an enigmatic smile. of the collapse of Uruk society. In spite of this, a post-Uruk occupation is document-
ed in the area north of the older settlement. Several workshops devoted to pottery
THE INTENTIONAL BREAKAGE production were unearthed there. Among the artefacts produced in said workshops,
there are many clay statuettes representing nude women. They can be dated to the
Female figurines made of clay were unearthed in the excavations in the Anatolian twenty-fifth century BC and reflect some features of Mesopotamian female clay stat-
third millennium site of Koçumbeli. The flat body shape of these figurines is similar uettes from the fifth millennium BC. These statuettes are multiple images of a nude
to that of the Kilia violin statuettes; in fact, it is flat with a semi-circular lower body woman, whose body is rendered schematically and her breasts are marked by the
on which the neck and the head are placed. The other body parts are only abstractly application of clay pellets and only her face is modelled more accurately.
represented, such as the arms, which are seen simply as short protrusions, and the A nude feminine figurine was found at Mari together with other precious arte-
breasts, which are depicted as holes. facts in the so-called “Treasure of Ur”. The statuette is made of a copper alloy, with
An in-depth analysis of the Koçumbeli statuettes demonstrated that many of them gold inlays, and is generally dated to the Early Dynastic IIIB. The horned headdress
had been broken intentionally at the neck. The deposition of broken heads of clay on the head of this statuette supports the assumption that it represents a goddess.
statuettes is also documented at the aforementioned Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük.
Acts of intentional breakage were also noticed on some of the figurines found at the 2
Syrian site of Tell Halawa, which can be dated to the late Early Bronze Age. Some of Double schematic female figure
Alacahöyük, Turkey
the broken heads seem to have been carefully buried.
Late IV millennium BC
The head breakage might be linked to magic rituals, such as the rites of passage, Gold
and could refer to events such as the adolescence and the marriage, when a young Anadolu Medeniyetler Muzesi, Ankara

1 woman would cut her previous ties with her family and enter a new phase of life.
Naked female with crossed arms
Hasanoğlu, Turkey
Ca. 2500–2100 BC
Silver with gold ornaments
Anadolu Medeniyetler Muzesi, Ankara Tell Brak is one the most fascinating archaeological sites in Syria. It was excavated
by Max Mallowan, a prominent archaeologist and the husband of Agatha Christie.
Tell Brak was an important centre and hosted a huge temple, the so-called “Eye
Temple”, under which two older sanctuaries were situated. The oldest one of these is
known as the “Gray Temple” and can be dated to the Late Chalcolitic 3. It is here that
Mallowan unearthed a huge amount of flat anthropomorphic figurines in limestone
with geometric bodies and heads represented by two big eyes placed directly onto
the neck. Sometimes a smaller figure was incised directly onto the front of the body.
This iconography supported the assumption that the objects represented women
and in the latter case a mother and child.
These figurines are generally interpreted as offerings to the deity venerated in the
temple, whose precise identity remains unknown. The symbolism, which the “Eye

42 43
3 She is endowed with athletic shoulders and the wide hips contrast with the small
Naked female figure
breasts and the fine modelling that renders the other body parts. The big eyes are
Tell Mozan, Northeast Syria
III millennium BC inlaid in mother-of-pearl and lapis lazuli, and her lips seem about to open into a smile.
Terracotta This statuette was found together with other precious objects including a lapis
lazuli bead bearing the name of Mesanepada, king of Ur. In spite of this, it is not
certain whether it was produced at Ur and thus a Syrian origin cannot be excluded.



Lastly, we mention a statuette found at Tell Mozan - Urkesh. A Hurrian dynasty ruled
the kingdom of Urkesh (Upper Khabur) in the second half of the third millennium
BC, and a female statuette was found at Tell Mozan in a pit that cuts through the
outer wall of the royal palace of Urkesh. The statuette is made of clay and dates back
to the post Akkadian age. The lower part of the body and the base, as well, are not
preserved. Since the pit contained broken vessels, M. Kelly-Buccellati argued that
this statuette, too, was discarded along with other damaged ritual objects.
The statuette represents a nude woman; the female traits of her body are strongly
emphasized, such as her big buttocks and the large pubic triangle, which is framed
by three impressed lines. Two small applied clay pellets indicate her breasts. The
represented woman wears a necklace and features an elaborate hairstyle. The face
is plastically modelled and marked by a big nose, bulging cheeks and a small mouth.
A deep slot on the top of the head might have held aromatic substance to be burned.
The finding of several high quality clay sculptures in the third millennium levels
at Urkesh supports the assumption that they and also the aforementioned statuette
might be the product of a local workshop. The particular shape of the face and the
prominent cheeks are features that distinguish this artefact from the other contem-
porary Syrian clay statuettes, whereas they can be seen in some more recent clay
sculptures dated during the Khabur-Ware period, such as a female clay head from
Tell Mozan and some figurines discovered at Tell Arbid as well.

Bibliography: Strommenger 1980; Seeher 1992, pp. 2006; Daems 2007, pp. 77–117; Nakamura, Meskell
153–170; Margueron 1995, pp. 42–53; Breniquet 2009, pp. 205–230; Makowski 2010, pp. 617–626;
1996, pp. 31–53; Kelly-Buccellati 1998, pp. 35–50; Hodder 2011, pp. 934–949; Kulakog lu 2011, pp.
Buccellati, Kelly-Buccellati 2000, pp. 3–39; Assante 1012–1030; Pinnock 2013, pp. 199–214; Buccellati
2006, pp. 177–207; Caubet 2006, pp. 177–181; Cooper 2014; Atakuman 2017, pp. 85–108.

44 45

ith the rise of complex centres of civilization – Mesopotamian, Egyptian
and Harappan – found in the great river valleys of the Tigris and Eu-
phrates, the Nile and the Indus during the late fourth and third millennia
BC – humanity witnessed an unprecedented flowering of the arts, its emergent ico-
nography largely expressing divine power and heroic royal prowess. The materials,
form, technique and imagery of objects such as sculpture, jewellery and both stamp
and cylinder seals, not to mention architecture, provide visual manifestations of es-
sential cultural differences that developed among these first urban societies. However,
such features also reveal interactions that extended across vast distances from the
Mediterranean eastward, crossing another great river system, comprising the Amu
Darya and Syr Darya (Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers), which watered the oasis towns of
Central Asia. Certain raw materials and artefacts demonstrate the entire breadth
of intercultural exchange; others are confined to circuits within the vast network of
cultural centres, which together formed the precursors of the overland Silk Road
that linked to maritime routes from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea. Cultural
“Oxus Lady” Seated
on a stool convergences within these regions have been the subject of much research, incor-

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

porating new archaeological discoveries with art historical interpretations, technical
Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC) analyses and studies of Mesopotamian texts that reveal the impetus to obtain exotic
Private Collection, UK materials from distant lands and identify regions such as Dilmun (Bahrain), Magan
(cat. 84, detail)
(Oman), Marhashi (Southeastern Iran) and Meluhha (the Indus Valley) with coveted
materials associated with the latter three: copper, chlorite and carnelian.
At times fortunate circumstances provide an intimate glimpse of the nature of
interaction across the broad tapestry of an interconnected world during the third and
early second millennia BC. A merchant hoard, buried at Ashur, includes seals and
beads that represent activities over an area extending from the Indus Valley to Cen-
tral Anatolia at a time when the tin and textile trade was underway. “Foreigners and
explorers who travel across the lands” deposited an impressive quantity of lapis lazuli
and silver in the form of seals and vessels in the temple of Montu at Tôd in Egyptian
Thebes, representing an area extending from Bactria-Margiana in Central Asia to
the Levant, Anatolia and Minoan Crete. The “Vase a la Cachette” (fig. 1), discovered
at Susa, bears witness to interaction from Eastern Iran to the Gulf and the Indus,
with evidence of tin bronze metallurgy in the centuries prior to the explosion of the
long-distance tin trade in Anatolia. The copper comes from Oman, alabaster vessels
are from Eastern Iran and two of the cylinder seals in the hoard reveal contacts with

46 47
1 “in the mountains where the sun rises”, boasts fabulous wealth in precious stones
“Vase à la cachette” – a pottery jar
with abundant lapis lazuli and gold, silver, copper and tin – tin being a commodity
and lid containing a hoard of copper
alloy artefacts and calcite vessels found in the “Vase a la Cachette”. The unearthing of over 22 kilograms of lapis lazuli
Susa, Iran in the Royal Palace of Ebla, gathered possibly for shipment to Egypt; the discovery of
Late III millennium BC
a lapis lazuli figure of a nude female at Hierakonpolis; the distribution of flat beads
Musée du Louvre, Paris
with tubular string hole and quadruple spiral beads, both types made of gold and
silver, as well as etched carnelian beads – extending from the Indus to the Aegean –
provide us with material evidence for the routes and shared values that are implied
in the impetus to acquire such objects. Chlorite vessels and handled weights with
relief decoration and distinctive East Iranian features – termed “intercultural” for
their widespread appeal – represent a more limited interaction zone extending across
Western, Central and South Asia. With production centres identified in Eastern Iran at
Tepe Yahya and probably on the Arabian island of Tarut, some of the most elaborate
examples were discovered in temples, palaces and burials in Southern Mesopota-
mia, which originally suggested that these works were made for export. However,
the masses of such objects, mostly looted from graves in the Halil River basin near
Jiroft, with a few excavated examples at Konur Sandal South, have transformed our
picture of this corpus of objects, evidently also valued locally in Southeastern Iran,
an area identified by Piotr Steinkeller as the “land of Marhashi”, home to its chlorite
material, the “Duhšia stone”.
Konur Sandal South also produced stamp and cylinder seal impressions, which
have been compared by Holly Pittman to Early Dynastic examples from Southern
Mesopotamia. As in the three cases mentioned above, they highlight the importance
of glyptic – portable instruments of status and identity that were worn as jewellery,
integral to the trade process and reflecting the movements of merchants, other
travellers and also ideas. By the third millennium, the use of seals in administration
had been introduced over an area extending from the Aegean and Eastern Mediter-
ranean to the Indus – with regionally distinctive materials, forms and imagery. The
the Indus Valley and the Gulf – one depicting a lion confronting a zebu in the posture general preference for stamp rather than cylinder seals, prevalent in the Aegean,
of a short-horned bull and another, made of shell, blending Mesopotamian and Gulf Egypt and Anatolia, also occurs at the other end of the geographic spectrum, in the
stylistic and iconographic elements. These instances of travelling objects that came Indus Valley, the Gulf and the Oxus – with exceptional instances of cylinder seals
together under different circumstances highlight a complexity that is difficult to grasp with Indus-related images found at Mohenjodaro as well as in Mesopotamia and
in our attempt to understand the nature and significance of cultural encounters as Eastern Iran and a Near Eastern-inspired contest scene on a cylinder from Gonur
manifested in the material record. Patterns do emerge, however, as we briefly review that Pittman attributes to Southeastern Iran. These seals were created at a time
the materials and imagery of interaction, with the intensity of exchange suggested by when Harappan square stamps travelled westward as far as Southern Mesopotamia,
the inscription on an Akkadian cylinder seal identifying its owner as an interpreter as did circular seals of Harappan origin, depicting short-horned bulls and Indus or
of Meluhha and by tantalizing references to a Meluhha village in Mesopotamia, sit- rarely cuneiform inscriptions – a type that appears to have developed in Bahrain as
uated in the vicinity of Girsu. a precursor to Dilmun seals, its imagery possibly a merchant’s mark. One such seal
in the Ligabue Collection has a Linear Elamite text (fig. 2), signifying East Iranian
MATERIALS OF INTERACTION participation in this trading sphere. The discovery of stamp seals with Indus and
Oxus connections at the site of Konar South broadens the picture of presumably
The beginnings of trade in the quest for exotic prestige materials and the transfer of overland interaction previously suggested evidence such as an Oxus crenellated
technologies, such as writing, are poetically alluded to in one of the great works of seal at Harappa, the impression of a compartmented seal at Mohenjodaro, a pottery
Sumerian literature, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. This mythical distant place impression of a compartmented seal depicting a zebu at Shahr-i-Sokhta and another

48 49
2 a transfer of religious beliefs and mythologies as scholars attempt to decipher the
Stamp seal in Indus style
rich visual language on the seals of Eastern Iran and the Oxus region.
Eastern Iran or Oxus
Late III millennium BC One motif that demonstrates a similarity of expression over a wider range, from
Steatite with modern impression: the Mediterranean to the Indus, is the symmetrical scene of a “Master of Animals”
a bull, and proto-elamite script
with a central figure controlling dangerous beasts – one notable depiction with
Ligabue Collection, Venice,
inv. CL 1720 TENIAMO???
snakes held by a central figure, while another controls streams of water above two
Indus-looking zebu, on an “intercultural style” vessel imported to Mesopotamia. Ti-
gers are controlled by a nude hero on Harappan seals, replacing the lions one would
expect in Mesopotamia. Composite creatures combining elements of potent animals
with each other and with humans – either as a means of visualizing the unseen world
or heightening the magical powers of the living – also occur across the ancient world.
Oxus divinities in human form are often winged and associated with snakes further
west, and rarely have horned headgear.
Harappan seals emphasize natural animals, occasionally with bovine horns add-
ed to the tiger and the elephant, but basic elements that farther west define the
otherworldly – such as wings – are lacking in the Indus Valley depictions. The most
recognizable composite Harappan image melds a human head (and hair) topped by
bull horns and ears, a male or female torso, human arms with animal extremities,
and bovine hindquarters and tail. Another, depicted both on stamp seals and one
zebu seal found at Nausharo in Baluchistan. Reinforcing the famous Sargonic text cylinder seal, consists of a human figure attached to the belly and hind legs of a tiger
noting “Ships from Meluhha, Magan, and Dilmun made fast at the dock of Akkad” with horns resembling those of East Iranian divinities.
the glyptic connections between Konar Sanal and sites such as Gilund in India have Images of bull capture and acrobatics – familiar from Syria, Anatolia, the Aegean
been interpreted by Pittman as evidence for a maritime route connecting to a land and Egypt in the second millennium BC – occur in a Harappan context on seals from
corridor into inland Iran. Mohenjodaro. Here the beast is a water buffalo, but on a cylinder seal from Ur with
Indus-related imagery, a zebu is depicted. Another extraordinary stamp seal from
IMAGERY OF INTERACTION Gonur, in the form of a Bactrian camel biting its hind legs, also shows a zebu in a
Near Eastern version of the “flying gallop”.
With the advent of urban centres of civilization, the visual arts developed culturally There can be no doubt that the peoples of the developing cities and towns in the
distinctive features but certain similar forms of expression emerged across the en- varied landscapes of the ancient world, speaking a vast array of languages, were
tirety of the ancient world to capture the potency of the divine, supernatural world. greatly enriched by the economics of exchange that provided the path for the transfer
Major divinities in the Mesopotamian sphere are represented in human form but of materials, imagery, technologies and ideas over such a vast geographic area. Yet,
come to be distinguished from them by their horned crowns, tufted fleecy attire as despite the cultural connections that emerged, civilizations from the Mediterranean
well as specific attributes and animals that symbolize their presence. Some of these to the Indus retained a richness of visual expressions that came to define their own
features were transmitted eastward, particularly the tufted garment worn by seated unique identities.
females on East Iranian seals, a silver vessel inscribed in Linear Elamite with the J.A.
name of Puzur-Inshushinak, a Bactria-Margiana silver pin, as well as seated female
composite sculptures made of chlorite and calcite, some from Oxus burials and do-
mestic contexts, with numerous and varied types lacking provenance. The sculptures
exhibit elaborate hairstyles but, unlike related images of seated females on some East
Iranian seals, lack horns or other headdresses that would certainly identify them as Bibliography: Francfort 1982, pp. 179–208; Stein- 69–103; Salvatori 2008, pp. 111–118; Vermaak 2008,
deities. In contrast to the clearly divine females in tufted garments on Bactrian com- keller 1982, pp. 237–265; Sarianidi 1994, pp. 27–36; pp. 454–471; Kaniuth 2010, pp. 3–22; Laursen 2010,
Harper, Klengel-Brandt, Aruz, Benzel 1995; Collon pp. 96–134; Benoit 2011; Pittman 2012, pp. 79–94;
partmented seals, seated on Bactrian dragons, with caprids or wings emerging from
1996, pp. 209–226; Possehl 1996, pp. 133–208; Sar- Steinkeller 2012; Pittman 2013, pp. 63–89; Pittman
the shoulders, their interpretation remains a mystery. Shared imagery, particularly ianidi 1998; Aruz 1999, pp. 12–30; Aruz Wallenfels 2014, pp. 625–636; Winkelmann 2014, pp. 199–229;
the association of divinities with specific animals and natural elements, may betray 2003; Aruz, Graff, Rakic 2005; Madjidzadeh 2008, pp. Vidale, Frenez 2015, pp. 144–154.

50 51
Sounds of the Ancient World:
Harps across Time and Space

he harp player from the Cyclades (cat. n°21) stands in this exhibition as the
symbol of the place taken by ancient music, a vanished world. It is the rep-
resentative of the gentle art of sounds, which we see, darkly, through the few
remains of musical instruments that survived across time, together with a larger
number of figurative images.
By the forth millennium a range of instruments had spread across parts of the
ancient world, including Elam, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley and the Oxus
(or Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex). It includes strings, winds and per-
cussion instruments. Of strings, harps arose first, followed by lyres and lutes. Such
instruments had complex structures: sets of strings, tuning devices and bridges which
allowed the string to vibrate and be tuned. Their bodies were shaped to amplify the
sound. Such details make them easy to recognize on images and identify in archae-
ological digs. Most were made of wood, a perishable material, but some survived
because they were clad in metal foil.
There were two kinds of ancient harps, the early arched harps (ca. 3300–2000
Harp player Cyclades
BC) and the later, angular harp (ca. 2000 BC–300 AD).1
Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
The earliest harps had an arched shape and may, in fact, have been inspired by
Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe, the hunter’s bow. The musical connection is revealed already in the Odyssey (eighth
inv. 864 century BC) when the hero returns to his wife, Penelope, on Ithaca. He finds his
(cat. 21)
familiar bow, used twenty years earlier, before his departure,

. . . Odysseus, mastermind in action,

once he’d handled the great bow and scanned every inch,
then, like an expert singer skilled at lyre and song–
who strains a string to a new peg with ease,
making the pliant sheep-gut fast at either end–
so with his virtuoso ease Odysseus strung his mighty bow.
Quickly his right hand plucked the string to test its pitch
and under his touch it sang out clear and sharp as a swallow’s cry.
Horror swept through the suitors, faces blanching white,
and Zeus cracked the sky with a bolt, his blazing sign.2

In Mesopotamia the arched harp was the only type of harp until the second half of the
Isin-Larsa period and the Old Babylonian periods when angular harps appeared in

52 53
great numbers on terracotta plaques. The switch from arched to angular harps was a 1
a. Ancient Egypt, arched harp, tomb Egypt Mesopotamia Elam BMAC Indus
radical change, not only in design but in the number of strings available on the harp.
of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep,
The angular harps consisted of a narrow, hollow body into which a thick solid rod at Saqqara, fifth dynasty, reign of
had been attached horizontally at the lower end of the near-vertical body. The rod Pharaoh Niuserre Ini (2380–2320 BC)
VERIFY DATES [2445–2424 BC] OR
was stuck through a hole drilled perpendicularly through the body. Much later, during
ELIMINATE?. After Manniche 1991,
the Islamic period in Iran, the attachment became more elaborate with supporting p. 28.
brackets. Short strings occupied the corner-space between the body and the rod. Long b. Egypt, vertical angular harp, tomb

strings spanned the space between the end of the rod and the top of the body. Short at Memphis, Ptolemaic (304–30 BC).
a c1 c2 e h
After Manniche 1991, pp. 106–107.
strings were easily accessible to the player, but long ones were harder to reach. It was c1. Mesopotamia, arched harp
conceived in 1900–1600 BC. Its shape differed from arched harps and there were other (3350–3200 BC). Rashid 1984, fig. 27. d1 f1
differences. Importantly, angular harps had more strings than arched ones. 3 c2. Ancient Mesopotamia, arched
harp, consecration plaque from
In this short overview of the history of harps, arched and angular, in the ancient
Khafaja, Iraq (2600 BC), University of
world, we will first present the case for Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Cyclades, then, Chicago, Oriental Institute, A 12417.
turning towards the East, look at Elam, the Oxus and the Indus civilizations. Rashid 1984, fig. 35.
d1. Mesopotamia, vertical angular
In Mesopotamia (3300–2000 BC), harps seem to have appeared before the lyre.
harp, Old Babylonian terracotta
They were all arched harps. The image of such an early harp was used as a pic- plaque (1830–1531 BC DIFFERENT
tograph (balag) on nineteen clay tablets from Uruk. They are dated to the Uruk IV DATES IN ESSAY 1894–1595 BC.
REMOVE????), Iraq Museum,
and III periods. Such tablets formed the basis of analytic discussions of the earliest b d2 f2 g
Baghdad, IM 21 359. Rashid 1984,
writing in Mesopotamia. The signs show a 3-stringed arched harp similar to the
fig. 62.
extant Queen’s harp, dated 2450 BC, excavated at Ur, where it has 13 strings. The d2. Mesopotamia, horizontal angular
numerous attestations indicate that arched shapes, indeed, existed in early Mesopo- harp, Old Babylonian terracotta
plaque, Old Babylonian terracotta
tamia. Such arched harps also appeared on Mesopotamian seals and on consecration
plaque (1830–1531 BC), Louvre, AO
plaques (2600–2400 BC). 12455. Rashid 1984, fig. 71. can be counted. Extant Egyptian arched harps have typically less than 10 strings
Angular harps are shown on several terracotta plaques dated to the Old Baby- e. Elam, arched harp, terracotta (occasionally as few as 3). On the other hand, extant angular harps typically had 21
impression of a stamp seal, Chogha
lonian period. They are also shown on terracotta plaques found at Ishchali, a site strings and sometimes as many as 29. Harp strings give normally only one pitch. So,
Mish (3200 BC). Lawergren 2018.
excavated by The Oriental Institute of Chicago University in the 1930s. There they f1. Elam, vertical angular harp arched harp could play few pitches, whereas angular harps could play more than
were dated “late Isin-Larsa period”. The two periods comprise a three century span from Madaktu, wall relief (646 BC). 20. In Mesopotamia, angular harps were accepted during a period of 300 years. But
Lawergren 2018.
(1900–1600 BC), during which angular harps were invented. Egypt resisted them for 600 to 200 years while keeping the tradition of arched harps.
f2. Elam, horizontal angular harp from
In Egypt, arched harps (“shovel-shaped” harps) were introduced early in the Old Susa, terracotta plaque (2000–1500
The slow acceptance of angular harps implies a reluctance to expand the pitch
Kingdom, the IV Dynasty (ca. 2500 BC). For five centuries, it was the only type, but BC), Louvre, Sb 6574. Spycket 1992, range of harp music. By Near Eastern standards, Egypt was a conservative music
after the Middle Kingdom, new types of arched shapes arose. Unlike other parts of p. 187, fig. 36. culture. This observation confirms Plato’s assertion that Egyptians “forbade any
g. BMAC, horizontal angular harp
the ancient world, arched harps lasted in Egypt into the Hellenistic world. Because innovations or inventions in music”.
on a silver cup from Northern
of the longevity, one might consider ancient Egypt a prominent “harp culture”, just Afghanistan. For reference, points to In the Cyclades, arched harps appeared during the mid-third millennium: several
as ancient Greece was a “lyre” culture. Joël Suire??????. (REMOVE?????: G. marble statuettes of musicians were discovered in Thera (today, Santorini); they are
Fussman, J. Kellens, H.-P. Francfort
Angular harps were not imported to Egypt until the New Kingdom: the first such contemporaries with the examples known from Mesopotamia and the Levant. Their
and X. Tremblay, Āryas, Aryens et
harp is shown in a Theban tomb from the reign of Amenophis II. They continued to Iraniens en Asie Centrale, Collège de shapes, however, are quite distinct from other arched harps. Although it seems proba-
be shown in to the Roman period. France, Paris 2005, fig. 27). ble that the technique of musical instruments and that musical practices circulated over
h. Indus Valley Civilization, writing
The Roman fascination with Egypt also brought harps to Italy. Athenaeus (160– great distances, the precise means of such a circulation escapes us. It is probable that
sign thought to show an arched harp
230 AD), living in Alexandria, Egypt, has a story about it. In The Deipnosophists, (2600–1900 BC). Flora 1988, p. 215;
instruments were adapted to local usages and that several types may have coexisted.
he recounts a series of dinner conversations, and one guest says: “My fellow-citizen Parpola 1996, fig. 167, no. 180 Looking now towards the East, we observe that from Elam, situated across the
Alexander gave a public recital on the harp [trigonon], and sent all Rome into such western part of present Iran, comes the first image of an arched harp, dated 3200
a state of music-madness that most Romans can repeat his tunes.” BC. It was excavated at Chogha Mish. It is a composite of five sealing fragments
The most significant difference between arched and angular harps was their sets which constituted a large scene. The fragments shared one pictorial element: a jar
of strings. Since harps survived well in the dry sand of Egypt, the amount of strings (or a fish),5 and the whole scene could be reconstructed. The complete scene shows

54 55
2 Trumpets were common in the Oxus civilization. These were not used as musi-
Harp players of the royal court of
cal or signal instruments, but could imitate animal sounds, especially that of deer.
Elam (Southwest Iran) – part of an
Assyrian wall relief from the palace of The hunter used his trumpet to call the female deer during rut. The animal would
Ashurbanipal II depicting his conquest approach and be quickly killed.
of Elam
In the Indus valley, at a time when arched harps were well attested in Mesopota-
Southwest Palace, Kouyunjik, Nineveh,
Northern Iraq
mia, the situation is less clear during the development of the Harappan civilization.
660–650 BC Only one representation is known (fig. h). It is on a square seal from Mohenjo-daro,
Gypsum alabaster with an upper and lower part. The former shows a row of three symbols, and the
British Museum, London
latter an image of a zebu animal. The rightmost symbol looks like a pictograph of
an arched harp with three vertical strings.
However, the writing from the Indus civilization has not yet been deciphered,
and we do not know the pronunciation of the harp symbol, as we do in Mesopota-
mia (balag). Of course, the paucity of Indus instruments creates concerns, but the
similarity to the balag-sign in Mesopotamia creates some assurance. Several earlier
scholars have also proposed it is an Indus harp. Generally, the Indus script was used
during the “Mature Harappan Period” and we consider it an Indus harp limited to
that period. There are no musical instruments after 1900 BC.
In conclusion, we know the shape of harps in the cultures examined here: Indus,
Oxus, Elam, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Mediterranean. In many cases, information is
documented from 2500 to 1500 BC. In the earliest phase, before ca. 2000 BC, harps were
a dinner entertained by four musicians. Besides the arched harp player, there is a arched. Between 1900 and 1600 BC arched harps were replaced by angular ones. The
drummer, a player of animal horns.6 The fourth musician holds his right hand on Near East and Egypt adopted angular harps at different rates, and this fact may imply
the cheek, a posture well known from singers in ancient and modern Near East. In that Egyptian music was more conservative than that of its Near Eastern neighbours.
a nutshell, the little dinner ensemble looks universal: there is a string, a percussion The angular harp had many more strings than the earlier arched shape, and it is
and a wind instrument. The ensemble is the first known representation of a union tempting to give it musical significance. But, since we don’t know the music, further
of music and feasting. But there seems to be no religious objects on display, but, of thoughts will be mostly speculation. This arched/angular transformation occurred
course, one cannot know if the feast had a hidden religious purpose. At any rate, it universally and is an intercultural phenomenon. Even when we have no tunes, as
is no ordinary meal. The presence of music elevates its purpose. here, the study of ancient instruments may lead to insights that add to a preliminary
The angular harps appeared in Elam, simultaneously with Mesopotamia (ca. music history of the five cultures during the forth to second millennia BC.
1900–1600 BC), and there are many examples. L.B.
The Oxus civilization, or Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), a
Bronze Age civilization in Central Asia, developed around 2200–1800 BC and cov-
The dates are the “conventional” ones given by Roaf 7
Lawergren 2018. Vertical harps are shown with 24,
(1990, pp. 110–111), but the absolute dates are still 24 and 29 strings; horizontal ones with 8, 9 and 10.
ered Northern Afghanistan, Eastern Turkmenistan, Southern Uzbekistan, Western under discussion.
Tajikistan and the upper Amu Darya (Oxus River). There was also substantial bor- 2
Homer 1996, p. 437, lines 451–460. Bibliography: Plato ed. 1926; Homer ed. 1996, pp.
rowing from Iran.
To evaluate the number of strings, one needs extant 451–460; Marshall 1931; Woolley 1934, p. 62; Gelb
instruments, which are mostly available in Egypt be- 1952, p. 62; Rashid 1984, pp. 52–88; Lawergren, Gur-
There were no arched harps in BMAC. The Oxus harp is a horizontal angular
cause the dry sand prevented wood decay. Representa- ney 1987, pp. 37–52; Flora 1988, p. 215; Roaf 1990,
model, similar to horizontal models in Mesopotamia (fig. d2). It looks like a vertical tions rarely give accurate string counts. pp. 110–111; Auerbach 1994, p. 380, fig. 16a; Delou-
harp turned 90o. Both orientations were present already during the Old Babylonian 4
I am indebted to Dr Robert K. Englund for checking gaz, Kantor 1996; Parpola 1996, pp. 165–171; Kenoyer
balag signs on tablets in ATU (= Archaiche Texte aus 1998, pp. 69–79; Farmer, Henderson, Witzel 2000, p.
period, and the strings can easily be counted on the Madaktu orchestra shown on an
Uruk). 80; Possehl 2002, pp. 127–139; Glassner 2003, p. 122;
Assyrian wall relief in the British Museum.7 This is clearly countable on the Madaktu 5
Delougaz and Kantor 1996, pp. 147–148; field num- Wright 2010, p. 163; Emerit, Guichard, Jeammet, Per-
orchestra shown on an Assyrian wall relief in The British Museum. At the front end ber III-913a-e from square Q18. Dr A. Alizadeh (private rot, Thomas, Vendries, Vincent, Ziegler 2017, p. 105;
comm.) considers it an image of a jar rather than a fish, Lawergren 2018, pp. 41–118.
the strings were tied to the vertical rod and allowed to hang down freely as “tassels”
cf. ibid., p. 147, no. 68.
in front of the harp (fig. d2). However, the Oxus harp differs: its tassels cling to the 6
The narrow ends were cut open, allowing the player
front and follow tightly the bottom of the front. to blow the horn.

56 57
A Journey
time and space

60 61
the eye was in the tomb
and was looking

“The eye was in the tomb and was looking . . . ”

L´œil était dans la tombe et regardait …
Victor Hugo, La Conscience, La légende des Siècles, 1859

e, she or it is on my desk while I am writing this text. His, her or its eyes –
drilled, black and profound – are “looking” at me: eyes or whatever these
sharp deep holes are or mean. I cannot write without a certain uneasiness
near He, she or it . . .
He, she or it is embodied in an incised white stone short cylinder. This may have
been broken: the cylinder may have been longer, maybe 20 centimetres high, more
or less.
Is it – was it – considered an object or an image? Is he or she a living, mortal or
immortal being? A male or female being? Can we answer these questions? Are they
really important? Can we look and judge this item or being as people from Antiquity
Plaque idol – related to it, she or he – did? Until the mid-1950s the answer was clear and always
Iberian peninsula, Vega de Guadancil, the same: the item was the image of a mother goddess. Is “it”?
Garrovillas de Alconétar, Cáceres This small sculpted and engraved cylinder is an “eye idol” from the Iberian pen-
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC)
insula, present-day Spain and Portugal, at the western end of the Mediterranean,
Museo Arqueológico Nacional,
Madrid, inv. 358
the gate to the Atlantic.1 It is dated between the fourth and the third millennia BC.
(cat. 3, detail) These “idols” are shaped like elongated stone or marble cylinders with engravings
(cat. n° 1). Among them, drilled holes surrounded by incised rays and sometimes
circles at the head of the cylinder and profoundly incised zigzag horizontal or vertical
lines – as if suggesting long hair in a simplified way. Most of the “eyes” have small
eyebrows over them, and sometimes curved vertical lines on each side that frame
the hypnotic gaze, due especially to the so small and round “eyes”: it seems that
they will never close.
I am using words appropriate to name parts of a living being: eyes, eyebrows,
hair; sometimes, even arms. Are they correct? Are they really “idols”? The “eyes” that
look like eyes of owls, and the fact that owls were the symbol of a Greek goddess,
Athena, has been a clue to interpreting them as images or embodiments of female
divinities. The design of the circular eyes with rays or sun-eyes appears also in small
thin gold plaques – we can presume that the quality of the metal may have been
associated with the radiance of the sun – deposited near the cylindrical idols. Gods
and goddesses never sleep, contrary to human beings. So these items have been

62 63
1 considered divine figurines. Could they have been or could they have represented
Male figure
other mortal or immortal beings?
Rena, Badajoz, Spain
III millennium BC A recent archaeological find has shed some light on these objects. Until now,
Marble they had come to light without any study of the site where they had been found. The
Museo Arqueológico, Badajoz,
provenance was unknown as they came from illegal or undocumented excavations.
inv. 10434
The Museum of Huelva exhibits a stunning collection of cylindrical “idols”, present-
ed in well-lit showcases as in a minimal contemporary installation. They were all
discovered in the archaeological site of La Orden-Seminario, located around the
city of Huelva. Twenty-nine idols, from two tombs, were found. They constitute the
most important find on the Iberian peninsula. Dated from the very early fourth mil-
lennium BC, they were in perfect condition. Even though they were found lying on
the ground – due to the fall of the vault – it seems that they were originally standing
and that they were not moved. The collection may tell us about what they may have
signified. These “idols” were not deposited alone. They were not intended to be ap-
preciated or used alone. They belong to a group. This group was standing on a tomb.
Their function and their meaning were related to the Netherworld, whatever this
may have been. They were not lying on the ground, as a dead being or an offering,
but, despite the narrowness of their base, they were standing up – as a living being?
They were not alone in the tomb. Ceramics were also deposited. They belonged to
a burial offering. But their function was not utilitarian. They did not contain goods.
They might express the wealth of the living – their shape needed a complex and
articulate working, possibly by different artisans – or they were there to “look” after
the dead. In the first case, they symbolise richness and generosity; in the second
case, they express ties between living and dead people, anguish or fear, and their
function may be to put into contact both the living and the dead and to maintain
these ties. They were representing the living, as being in touch with the dead forever.
They may represent not a supernatural being, but the living who were trying to be
near their dead relatives – and at the same time keeping them in the Netherworld.
The idols or figurines from the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic on the Iberian pen-
insula are, as in any other culture, of very different shapes, depending on their epoch
and their location. Among some of the most outstanding figurines are the Chillarón
idol (Cuenca Museum), a spherical double “idol” – a male and female semi-spheri-
cal figure united by the circular base, maybe twins or an hermaphrodite, a sign of
singularity – from the third–second millennia BC; or the “eye idol” in the shape of
a tri-dimensional X, perhaps a figure with wide opened legs or two figures united
by the belly (Provincial Archaeological Museum, Badajoz). They are quite different
from the “idols” found in the Mediterranean area, like the Rena white marble male
figurine from the third millennium BC (Badajoz Museum), so surprisingly similar to
Sardinian figurines, in the way the hair is carved. Others are comparable to Medi-
terranean figurines. The raised pointed short “arms” of the large Artana “idol” (third
millennium BC, Archaeological Museum, Burriana) (Fig. 3), 52 cm high, sculpted in
limestone but quite eroded, are similar to the “arms” of some of the slate plaque
idols – infra - but the Artana figurine raises questions: it was discovered in the
1920s in a Muslim cemetery, and may have come from the decoration of an Islamic

64 65
2 Textile patterns were not just decorative. They were ways of recording important
Anthropomorphic figure (?)
data in the life of a community. They were a kind of “pre-writing”. They may have
Artana, Spain
III millennium BC (?) measured the passing of time. And they certainly constituted identification symbols
Sandstone of a group. In spite of the difference of work implied between incising a plaque and
Museo Arqueológico, Burriana
weaving wool thread, these functions may be the same. Plaques and textiles were
signs: they embodied values shared by a group composed of living and dead beings,
ancestors and human beings, values materialised in graphic signs and transferred
from one generation to another. These plaques have been found in funerary contexts.
The buried dead were considered still part of a community, therefore, these signs
might even be heraldic motifs, as professor Katina L. Lillios has suggested. They
may have been identifying signs and at the same time be the registers of past events
or of the passing of events. They might represent a protective divinity (as they have
been interpreted for years), and they also acted as transmitters of values – expressed
through graphic motifs that could be easily recognised as belonging to a group – in
order to strengthen the ties between past and present members of the community.
Protective figures? Certainly: they would have preserved the memory of a commu-
nity, being testimony of the legacy and validity of shared values. For these possible
reasons they were far more important than just “divinities”.
building – having not been interpreted then as a figurine but as an abstract motif, P.A.
maybe a sort of sacred stone.
The cylindrical idols do look quite different from other figurines from the rest
of the Mediterranean. Another type, the grey plaque-idols, made of slate (Cat. 3-5),
constitute a large group of almost two thousand figurines – if there are indeed fig-
urines – found all in the south of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal). What
are they and what do they represent, if we can find an answer? The plaque idols,
also from the third millennium BC, found, as the cylindrical figurines, in several sites
in the south of the peninsula, have traditionally been interpreted as divine images:
images of a mother goddess, the same protective and pacific Mediterranean goddess
supposedly followed by all prehistoric cultures. This conventional interpretation may
or must be questioned for different reasons. The first one is that not all plaques have
anthropomorphic features (features that are drilled or incised eyes and sometimes
eyebrows and sculpted raised arms on both sides of the plaque. Incised “eyes” and
one or two drilled holes at the “top” can cohabitate, suggesting that, when edges are
worn-out, the plaque may have been used or reused as a pendant). So they may not
even be anthropomorphic figurines at all. Except for some larger plaques (as in the
Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla), most have a similar size. They fit in a hand. They
can be held, as a blade or a flint, for instance. They are always covered with incised
geometric patterns: triangles – interpreted as prominent vaginas, which is strange as
these triangles are incised on the whole body – squares, vertical, horizontal or curved
lines. Sometimes, horizontal lines divide the plaque in two, suggesting an articulate
anthropomorphic body. Most of the time they are adapted to the trapeze shape (with
round corners), a shape vaguely evocative of a flint stone. The motifs do not seem to be
The best collections of prehistoric Iberian “idols” Madrid, and in Portuguese museums (Museu Nacional
(cylindrical and plaque idols, of different sizes) are de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Lisbon, Museo Lapidar
representative. They are not or they cannot be associated with any anthropomorphic in the archaeological museums of the Spanish cities Infante D. Henrique, Faro).
feature. However, the patterns are similar to textile ones. Do they represent clothes? of Sevilla – perhaps the best – Huelva, Badajoz and Bibliography: Lillios 2008.

66 67
A LOOK into the Past:
Idols of the Iberian Peninsula

he dearth of images from our prehistoric ancestors leads us to pay particular
attention to the few representations that bring us closer to those distant epochs:
the idols we are dealing with here, wall art (cave and megalithic) and some
ceramic decorations. The word “idols” here refers to a heterogeneous set of small an-
thropomorphic statuettes. More strictly speaking, the term “idol” refers to a cult object,
for example, a representation of a divinity. We scholars of prehistory, however, are still
far from being able to associate these images from the past with a specific function. In
fact, we cannot even be sure that all these statuettes have a similar meaning. For this
reason, many scholars prefer to speak of ideomorphs, ideotechnical objects, idol-like
pieces or symbolic productions – all terms whose interpretative weight complicates their
use significantly. Therefore, it seems to us more correct to use the term “idol”, a conven-
tional use that does not imply acceptance of the aforementioned academic definition.
In the Iberian peninsula, we have a large set of idols spanning a chronological range
that greatly exceeds two millennia. They are concentrated in the south of the peninsula
and made of diverse materials in a wide variety of typologies. Despite this heterogeneity,
Cylindrical eye figure
it is reasonable to say that they generally communicate the same idea through their
Iberian peninsula, Estramadura?
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC)
styles which, though different, share a particular importance of the eyes and simplifi-
Museo Arqueológico Nacional, cation of the bodies, rendered through the geometric base element of a triangle. As in
Madrid, inv. 2002/98/3 other fields, the collection of idols of the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (MAN) can be
(cat. 1, detail)
considered representative of this production, especially because it conserves some of
the most emblematic pieces, including those selected for this exhibition.
The production of this genre of symbolic representations probably began in the fifth
millennium BC in the post-Cardial horizon and ended in the late third millennium BC.
More recent idols, from the campaniform period, have distinct anthropomorphic traits,
but in many cases maintain the same style of representing the parts of the body to
which they refer (eyes, hair, tattoos). Late depictions are clearly masculine or feminine,
reflecting the ideological shift that, along with many others, marked the transition from
the Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age.
Often we ignore the contexts to which these statuettes belong since many of them
come from ancient excavations; nonetheless, we can suppose that they were found in
both funerary and residential contexts. Their presence in burial sites makes it possi-
ble at times to identify some kind of correlation between those buried there and the
symbolic representations (a given idol for a given individual), while in others, there
is no such clear relationship. In recent years, ritual deposits have been identified in

68 69
1 phalange-idols, spatula-idols and flat idols. The first group are known as the “Pasto-
Footed bowl with incised eyes
ra-Almizaraque” type, which express a complex iconography noteworthy for the atten-
Los Millares, Spain
III millennium BC tion to the eyes, enhanced with what are most probably eyebrows and tattoos. These
Pottery idols are concentrated in the southeast quadrant of the peninsula, though examples
Ashmolean Museum of Art and
can also be found in other areas, as in the case of finds from Estremadura and the
Archaeology – University of Oxford
Madrid area. This type dates to the first half of the third millennium BC.
Another particularly interesting type of bone statuette is one known as the phal-
ange-idol. This category, however, includes a widely varying collection of objects that
probably had a variety of uses. Their “idol” nature (in the sense that we are attributing
to it here) is evident in the objects with incised or painted decoration; a substantial
number of others, however, have no surface decoration but are nonetheless the result
of an intentional process. This second group may have had their own distinct practical
function, or they could be artefacts that have lost their painted decoration or whose
function was defined through the application of perishable elements since lost. Gener-
ally, these idols are created from the first phalange of horses or cattle, whose natural
forms can acquire a specific value due to their relationship to the human figure.
silos and tombs that allow us to reconsider this direct relationship between idols and Another type, especially interesting for its great age, is the spatula-idol (San Martín-
individuals. Regardless, we believe that there were spaces in settlement contexts de- El Miradero type), typical of the north of the Meseta and dating between the fifth
voted to production that we identify as simple workshops of a rudimentary form of millennium BC and the beginning of the fourth. Finally, there are idols made of bone
craftwork, produced only part time and in conjunction with everyday survival activities. lamina, distinguished by their flat surface though they also exhibit profiles (straight,
Although there is still scant information in this regard, the presence of these statuettes cruciform, triangular, etc.) and diverse forms of workmanship. All of these date to the
in metallurgical contexts should also not be forgotten. fourth millennium BC.
As mentioned before, the idols of the Iberian peninsula are distributed in the south- A category that is not strictly defined by its material support is that of the anthro-
ern part of the region, concentrated primarily in certain deposits such as those at pomorphic idols. The most recent idols (second half of the third millennium BC) most
Almizaraque, La Pijotilla and Valencina. Although each area shows a degree of pref- resemble the human figure, but even examples from previous epochs have visible
erence for a given typology, as Victor Hurtado Pérez pointed out, there are no sharp sexual connotations in the various typologies. For example, there are representations
delimitations and connections can be observed between the different zones. We see, of breasts in the betilos or baetyls and in the funnel idols, pubic triangles in the phal-
for example, that the funnel idols, typical of the southeast of the peninsula, extend as ange-idols, etc. By the end of the Chalcolithic, the statuettes are more natural, closer to
far as Seville (Valencina) and Portugal (Perdigões). On the other hand, cylindrical idols, the human figure of reference. Concentrated in the Guadiana valley, the best-conserved
while concentrated in the southwest, occasionally appear in Almería and Granada and, examples of these idols have stylized forms and well-defined faces. Some are holding
in at least one well-known case, in the south of France. In fact, large deposits like that what seems to be a symbol of power, an element that has been associated with the
of Valencina have yielded virtually the entire range of known typologies. emergence of an elite in which men were gradually assuming a dominant role.
The statuettes are made of bone, clay, stone, wood and even gold. Beyond the mate- Much rarer are the ceramic idols, although they include examples such as those of
rial, however, it is also important to consider the use of pigments to colour them. In the La Pijotilla or Valencina de la Concepción. Rarer still are wooden idols and idols made
case of plaques, for example, the incised decoration is highlighted by filling the incisions with gold leaf, probably mounted on a core of wood or leather. Wooden idols have been
with a white paste, probably ground calcite, in order to give greater visibility to the found in Cueva Sagrada di Lorca (Murcis), while gold leaf idols were discovered in the
features. Other types of dyes are also commonly used, including minerals generically tholos tombs of Gandul and Montelirio (both in Seville) and in the Grand Dolmen of
referred to as ochre. These can be made of clays with various types of iron oxides (for Zambujeiro near Évora, in Portugal. The other major subset of Iberian idols are those
example, oligisto) or of cinnabar, and sometimes different components will be found in made of stone, most frequently of slate, schist or marble, or occasionally of alabaster
a single context. The use of colour was intended to intensify the visual impact of these or steatite.
figurines. It is important to know, however, that some of these dyes had a corrosive Among the simplest types are the so-called “almeriense”, either cruciform or vio-
effect that compromises our present-day interpretation of the object. lin-shaped. Their shape basically corresponds to a cross or double triangle with “arms”.
The majority of idols of the Iberian peninsula are made of bone or stone. The bone The presence of these arms has given rise to a variety of interpretations, including the
idols are among the most interesting, subdivided into idols created from long bones, theory that they are praying. However, it should be pointed out that the orientation of

70 71
2 3
Anthropomorphic figure Phalanx-idol
with raised arms La Hoya de los Castellones, Gorafe,
Llano de la Media, Legua, Fines, Granada
Almería, Spain III millennium BC
III millennium BC Bone
Terracotta????? VERIFY Museo Arqueológico Nacional,
Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid, inv. 1985/49/H-CAST/19/1
Madrid, inv. 1984/178/1/1

the statuette is unclear in many cases. Considering only the most unambiguous pieces, was increasingly structured in the fourth millennium BC and with which a bond had
the arms of some do indeed seem to be raised in a praying gesture, while others are to be demonstrated, that is, a right to claim ownership of the land.
clearly pointing down or even have their hands on their hips. The cylindrical idols with eyes are another of the most common typologies of the
Baetyls and funnel figurines are also less well-defined, generally smooth pieces of southeastern region of the peninsula. As in the previous case, stylistic differences range
varying sizes, from small funnels just over a centimetre tall (some made of bone) to the from the simpler examples of Estremadura in Portugal to the more “Baroque” examples
large baetyls measuring substantially more than thirty centimetres. They usually have found mostly along the lower reaches of the Guadalquivir. Despite their flat support,
only vaguely sketched eyes (with straight lines) and breasts. The baetyls have a strong the flat stone examples with eyes, such as our cat. 2, are categorized as another vari-
funerary connotation, with a documented presence in enclosures outside of the large ant of the cylindrical type, with very similar characteristics. This type is concentrated
megalithic structures. This positioning has been taken to suggest that they represent in the present-day province of Badajoz. Unlike what is seen in plaque-idols, most of
those buried in the architectural complex. Within this typology, the idols that can be those with eyes have been associated with residential structures. According to some
considered most characteristic are the pieces chosen for this exhibition by the MAN authors, by the third millennium BC, a territory’s most important contexts were its
– plaque idols and idols with eyes. The plaque-idols are the most common type, with large villages, and no longer its megalithic funerary structures. The appearance of these
approximately four thousand known pieces, concentrated in the fourth millennium BC idols in such settlements reflects regional differences of a shared idea, as happens in
and produced in the Alentejo region of Portugal. The simplest examples are “smooth” previously structured territories. Nonetheless, the Chalcolithic megaliths continue to
slabs with very small incisions, such as those found in Los Millares and Alicante. (It be our principal source of information about the beliefs of these populations.
is likely that the Alicante examples, devoid of incisions, were not idols at all but had As for the techniques used to produce these objects, without entering into too much
other uses.) detail, it is worth noting that the idols made of long bone are the most complex. Inter-
Plaque-idols, with their varying degrees of stylistic complexity, have been subdivid- est in these has focused at different times on the incisions, the painting (short-term
ed by Pascal Bueno into two large groups according to the presence or absence of an or long-term corrosion), the pyrography and the lost wax manufacture. These stone
anthropomorphic characterization. An example from each category has been selected idols have incisions and abrasions of varying intensities, implying enough technical
in this exhibition: the cat. 4 plaque-idol belongs to the group with obvious anthropo- complexity to theorize the need for specialized artisans.
morphic references insofar as they display an effort to delineate a face and large eyes, Concerning the interpretation of the formal attributes, it is easily observed that
whereas the cat. 5 idol is an example of pieces of an essentially geometric nature. circles and triangles are the most frequent basic graphic motifs. Circles are used es-
These idols have been documented primarily in funerary contexts (in well-conserved sentially to represent the eyes, whether radial (as in idols cat. 1, 2, 4) or simple (as in
cases, one can see them placed on the chest of the buried individual) in large megalithic plaque-idol cat. 3). Triangles represent the genitals (cat. 3), as well as the head in the
structures. These structures became the most distinctive element of a territory that anthropomorphic and plaque examples (cat. 4). They are also used more generally to

72 73
indicate the entire figure, as in the case of figures with two or three triangles, bone line of interpretation, these images would serve to preserve the memory of mythic
disc idols, and the exceptional image of an individual incised in the plaque-idol of Lapa characters – whose authority would be reinforced by the use of the sun symbol – and
do Bugio. to testify to the existence of an “ancestor cult”.
Triangles and circles are also reproduced with a similar treatment on other supports. It has also been proposed that these pieces should be understood as territorial
This is the case of the so-called “symbolic ceramic” in the south of the peninsula, where symbols. According to this theory, the evolution of the Iberian peninsula idols reflects
we find large eyes like those on vessels from Los Millares, or figures with two triangles the development of the social organization: during the Neolithic, they represented a
like those depicted on the vessel from Cerro de las Canteras (Almería). Similarly, both structure centred around small family groups, evolving during the Chalcolithic into a
motifs are found in numerous cave paintings and in various sites of the southeast reference to larger groups and the resulting emergence of territorial clans. At the end
quadrant of the peninsula (the provinces of Jaén, Almería, Alicante and Murcia). of the third millennium BC, the idols marked the transition to a social system that had
The graphic motifs unite to form friezes, such as those seen in the cat. 5 idol. In transformed into one in which the individual held power.
some cases, these friezes are subtle and unadorned. According to some scholars, they At this point, it is necessary to determine whether all the objects that we have com-
should be understood as narrative panels: those representing various pairs of eyes, bined under the name “idols” actually form a unified set and, if so, if there is a unified
for example, are interpreted – as we will see later – as references to more than one or multiple interpretations. Since it is rather improbable that all the idols correspond
person, that is, to more than one ancestor. In rare cases, not all the eyes in these idols to a single pattern, we should not look for exclusive features. In this sense, Victor
are part of a pair. Many scholars have stressed the importance of representation of Hurtado Pérez stresses that baetyls, phalange, and slab idols seem to have the tightest
the eyes. According to some theories, the way in which they are reproduced seems connection with the funerary world, while the anthropomorphic types and the types
to suggest masks rather than human faces. Another hypothesis, still focusing on the with eyes, which often appeared in pits, could have had a ritual function. All or some
interpretation of the eyes, proposes that they represent people in a trance, perhaps of the known types of idols may be identity symbols and, as such, refer to the group
after taking a hallucinogenic substance. 5 and territory to which they belong. In this sense, they may indicate a link with the
Idolo placa Lapa do Bugio
Other recurring elements of these statuettes are the crosswise lines usually found ancestors. This reference to an individual who no longer exists but who justifies the
Museum of Archaeology and
under the eyes (cat. 1, 2, 4). These incisions have been interpreted as wings, facial Ethnography of the District of claims of a group may acquire a mythic value that leads us into the sphere of beliefs.
tattoos, or even signs of suffering. Based on a comparison with preindustrial popu- Setúbal / AMRS We should not forget, however, that these objects also have an artistic value, nor
lations of the modern era, the “facial tattoos” theory seems most likely, especially in VERIFY CAPTION!!! DATE???? should we deny the possibility of more secular interpretations based on current ethno-
light of the discovery of pieces such as the heads from Los Millares and La Pijotilla or graphic examples, documented throughout the world. The verified existence of similar
of the interpretation of traits depicted on the anthropomorphic types. Many of these objects with a recreational value in preindustrial societies offers another possible in-
statuettes also have hair, whether loose, indicated by zigzag lines, or pulled back in a terpretation, at least for some of these idols. Such an interpretation does not exclude
pigtail. Cat. 1, 2 are good examples of the attention devoted to the depiction of hair in that these artefacts may be, for example, simultaneously dolls and propitiatory female
these figurines. The lower parts of the idol, when they are decorated, are interpreted fertility amulets. Indeed recreational use may also involve a symbolic and ritual signif-
Stick shaped eye-idol
Almizaraque, Cuevas del Almanzora, as garments with rich geometric ornamentation (cat. 4-5), following the hypotheses icance in a society where all these aspects are not necessarily disassociated.
Almería, Spain proposed for other finds, such as ceramic vessels. As regards future studies of these objects, there are many interesting facets which we
III millennium BC
After this brief overview of the partial interpretation of the elements represented cannot discuss here but which give an idea of how much remains to discover through
Museo Arqueológico Nacional, in these idols, we conclude with a consideration of the overall meaning that has been those eyes that watch us so intently. We are thinking, for example, of the existence of
Madrid, inv. 1984/172/21/91 attributed to them. Since these idols were first studied, specifically with the work of “cancelled idols”, the apparent use of a scale of proportions in the creation of some
Luis Siret (1908), there have been a multitude of interpretations. The first theories groups, such as the funnel idols of Los Millares or the cylinder-idols of Orden-Seminario,
postulate that they were religious objects, for example, protective idols identified with or finally, of the possible relationship between these figurative manifestations to the
those buried in the grave sites. Some scholars, such as Victor S. Gonçalves, continue broader Mediterranean context. There is no doubt that this exhibition will provide an
to use the term “divinity”; others, such as Pascal Bueno, assert that a well-prescribed excellent opportunity to delve deeper.
cult had already developed around the megalithic sites, where many of these statuettes M.R.
were found, although this religion cannot yet have had the controlling role typically
exercised in a society organized as a state.
The theory has been advanced that the idols were associated with ancestors and Bibliography: Siret 1908 [1995]; Bueno Ramírez 1992, pp. 126–127; Vera, Linares, Armenteros, González
fig. 19, pl. 1; Pascual Benito 1998, p. 193; Lillios 2002; 2010; Hurtado Pérez 2013, pp. 323, 325; Maret, Sidera
thus had a heraldic function. This possible interpretation would justify the discrepancy
Gonçalves 2004, p. 61; Maicas Ramos 2007, pp. 241– 2015; Bueno Ramírez, Balbín Behrmann, Barroso Ber-
between the number of the buried and the number of funerary symbols since each Following pages 246; Hurtado Pérez 2008; Bueno Ramírez 2010, p. 41; mejo, Carrera Ramírez, Hunt Ortiz 2016, pp. 387–391;
idol could correspond, for example, to several members of one family. Following this La Serena, Badajoz, Spain Hurtado Pérez 2010, pp. 149–151; Maicas Ramos 2010, Soler Díaz 2017, pp. 338, fig. 7.4, 352–353.

74 75
76 77

Cylindrical eye figure

Iberian peninsula, Estramadura?

Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC)
Gypsum, H. 12.75 cm, D. 6.10 cm
Museo Arqueológico Nacional,
Madrid, inv. 2002/98/3

Bibliography: Maicas Ramos 2004,

p. 15.

Although we do not know where they

were found, these idols are especially
frequent along the lower banks of
the Guadalquivir and date to the
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC).

Stick eye figure

Iberian peninsula
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC)
Grey stone “caliza”, H. 21.5 cm,
W. 3.5 cm
Museo Arqueológico Nacional,
Madrid, inv. 39557

Bibliography: Almagro Gorbea 1973,

pp. 141–142, fig. 24, pl. XXI.

Probably recovered from the middle

basin of the Guadiana, where this type
of idol is concentrated. Chalcolithic (IV
millennium BC).

78 79

Plaque idol

Iberian peninsula, Granja de

Céspedes, Badajoz
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC)
Slate, H. 20.4 cm, W. 12.9 cm
Museo Arqueológico Nacional,
Madrid, inv. 1959/53/2 

Bibliography: Almagro Basch 1963, pp.

2–9; Bueno Ramírez 1992, pp. 580–582;
Hurtado Pérez 2010.

This idol still shows traces of ochre

inside the incised decoration, which
have faded significantly since the
moment of discovery. Within the
“plaque idol” group, this example
corresponds to the subtype with
anthropomorphic traits, less common
than the trapezoidal plaques with
geometric decoration. It was found in
a necropolis comprising about twenty
graves, since vanished.

3 This idol still shows traces of ochre
inside the incised decoration, which Plaque idol
Plaque idol
have faded significantly since the
Iberian peninsula, Granja de
Iberian peninsula, Vega de Guadancil, moment of discovery. Within the
Céspedes, Badajoz
Garrovillas de Alconétar, Cáceres “plaque idol” group, this example
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC)
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC) corresponds to the subtype with
Slate, H. 14.30 cm, W. 8.50 cm
Broken/missing piece at centre, anthropomorphic traits, less common
Museo Arqueológico Nacional,
restored than the trapezoidal plaques with
Madrid, inv. 1959/53/3
Slate, H. 16.30 cm, W. 7.9 cm geometric decoration. It was found in
Museo Arqueológico Nacional, a necropolis comprising about twenty Bibliography: Almagro Basch 1963.
Madrid, inv. 358 graves, since vanished.
This idol belongs to the most common
Bibliography: Bueno Ramírez 1992, pp. and widespread type of these rare
580–582; Cerrillo 2016, pp. 29–46. artefacts.

80 81

82 83
Early Human Figures
from Sardinia

The Chrono-cultural Context

eolithic female figurines from Sardinia represent one of the many phenomena
of three-dimensional figuration that began to appear in the tenth millenni-
um BC in the Levant, the Balkans and the Mediterranean. New metaphors
and symbols took hold in the northern Levant, in cultures that still lacked ceramic
production but were experimenting with and transforming socio-economic systems
of production destined to replace the predatory economic system of the last hunt-
er-gatherers. These metaphors and symbols would bring significant new influences
into the first fully productive societies of the European Neolithic and, as regards our
discussion, the Mediterranean as well.
Sardinia is located in the Tyrrhenian trajectory of the diffusion of the early Tyr-
rhenian Neolithic and was involved in the process of inter-relations and cultural
homogenization of the Neolithic Cardial (mid-sixth millennium BC). Its develop-
female Geometric figure
ment can be traced to the chrono-cultural sequence of the FIliestru, Bonu Ighinu
Sardinia, Porto Ferro (Sassari), domus and Ozieri macro-phases, as confirmed by sound stratigraphic and other forms of
de janas necropolis
Early Chalcolithic (IV millennium BC)
Polo Museale della Sardegna – Museo In this historical segment, the island represented an active, receptive element
Archeologico Nazionale, Cagliari,
in trade and stylistic influences (if we use ceramics as a factor for assessment),
inv. 62474
(cat. 8, detail)
becoming an interlocutor during the Middle and Recent Neolithic in the dialogue
with the peninsular facies of the Tuscany-Latium areas of Central Italy and of the
Serra d’Alto/Ripoli group, as well as with the Chassean culture of continental and
Provençal Italy. This was an open circuit, extended over large areas during the
San Ciriaco timeframe (the transition from Bonu Ighinu to Ozieri) and the succes-
sive protracted development of the Ozieri culture, which connected Sardinia by
sea ideally with the results of the north-central (particularly the Po Valley) Chas-
sey-Lagozza and of the south-central Diana culture at the end of the Neolithic era
and continued uninterrupted at the beginning of the fourth millennium with the
transition to the Copper Age.
The phenomenon of female figurines, about whose function and meaning much
has been written, appears and spreads in the context of these flourishing relations.
Widely disseminated both on the islands and the peninsula, finds from Italy share a
number of aspects yet also vary widely, in overall formal structure as well as small-
er details (anatomical parts, decorations and ornaments). Nonetheless, there is a

84 85
consistent iconographic canon, to be understood as a symbolic instrument for ritual 1
1, 5, 12: Cuccuru s’Arrius (Cabras –
communication. The peninsular production of female statuettes is characterized by
Oristano); 2: Su Cungiau de Marcu
recurring traits, in terms of technique (clay as the predominant raw material), di- (Decimoputzu - Cagliari); 3: Polu
mension (small), taphonomy and context (settlement and funerary), and conservation 3 (Meana Sardo - Nuoro); 4: Santa
Mariedda (Olbia); 6: Perfugas-Sos
(fragmentation) – all traits betraying a widely adopted ideological and metaphorical
Badulesos (Sassari); 7: Polu 1
framework, independently of the diverse formal architectures. (Meana Sardo - Nuoro); 8: Polu 2
(Meana Sardo - Nuoro); 9: Sa Ucca’e

Figurines from Sardinia su Tintirriolu (Mara - Sassari);

10, 11: Monte Majore (Thiesi -
Sassari); 13: Puttu Codinu (Villanova
Neolithic figurines in Sardinia, as in Sicily, diverge from their peninsular counter- Monteleone - Sassari); 14: Su Crucifissu
parts, presenting numerous original features, from the raw material (stone, clay, Mannu (Porto Torres - Sassari);
15: Senorbì-Turriga (Cagliari) (from
hard animal matter) and heterogeneous dimensions to the typology of the context
Lilliu 1999; graphics by L. Baglioni)
(when identifiable: domestic, funerary, ceremonial) and the formal structure. The
most recent census records over 130 examples attributed to the Middle and Recent
Neolithic Age. Based on some of the typological, descriptive and interpretive pro-
posals, the production under consideration here can be divided into a number of
main modules that seem to partially characterize other historical segments as well.
However, the diverse formal results all share a distinct rigid iconic formulation of
the almost always nude subjects.
The so-called volumetric-naturalistic (or volumetric-ellipsoidal or volumetric)
module appears in the Middle-Recent Neolithic Age, comprising a homogeneous
series of approximately fifty artefacts associated with funerary contexts (fig. 1 no.
8), the reference model being Cuccuru s’Arriu (cat. no. 6). The structure is built with Two main variants can be distinguished – the cruciform or full plaque (fig. 1, nos.
two main volumetric masses, one for the lower extremities and the other for the bust 9-15; cat. 7) and the perforated plaque (fig. 2 nos. 12-15; cat. no. 8). While varying
and arms. The two masses are tightly fused, creating a squat, solid base into which in dimension and pose (standing figures), the statuettes share not only their well-de-
the cylindrical mass of the head can be inserted. fined geometric structure but also certain details, including an anonymous basal
The figure is either erect or seated. The arms are extended rigidly along the sides appendage, construction of a central quadrangular geometric module from which
(fig. 1, nos. 1, 4, 7) or bent at an angle in front (fig. 1, nos. 2, 6), or exceptionally, emerges the faint relief of the breasts, an occasional slight bulging of the buttocks
bent with hands open, resting on the breasts (fig. 1, no. 5). The hands joined on the viewed from the side, and an essential anthropomorphic identity in the schematic
breast are a variant seen in the seated figure of Su Cangiau de Marcu and, without rendering of the face, which is almost devoid of anatomical details other than a
the delineation of the hands, in that of Cotte’e Baccasa, with markedly protruding vertical strip to represent the nose.
buttocks. On the head sits a more or less defined “pillbox” hat (a crown? a hairstyle?) The head in the plaque examples is almost always realized with a circular or
that comes down to cover the ears, at times elaborately decorated. The face remains sub-circular shape, with the exception of the trapezoidal head of the San Salvatore
non-descript, with a simple orthogonal “T” design (eyes-nose), the eyes indicated by figurine (fig. 2, no. 4). Among the variants of the plaque typology, the rare examples
thin horizontal slits. This model powerfully communicates the maternal dimension of clothed figures are of particular interest (fig. 1, no. 12). It should also be mentioned
of women, and explicitly their role as wet-nurses, as suggested by the kourotrophos that the symbolic meaning of these figurations in small three-dimensional statuary
of Perfugas (fig. 1, no. 6). also informs iconographies on ceramic pieces, as in the planar geometric incision
The second dominant model is the flattened geometric (or planar) one, with on a bowl from Masainas.
parts with perforations, primarily realized with stone support (rarely terracotta) The chrono-cultural relationship of this geometric model is not always certain. It
and documented by nearly a hundred examples, some of which mere fragments. is commonly accepted that the cfr. Senorbì variant is related to the Ozieri facies while
The recomposition of the anatomical volumes according to a rigidly geometric vision the more recent cfr. Porto Ferro can be associated with the transition to the Copper
accentuates, in this repertoire, the iconic significance of the female image, here de- Age or to its first manifestations (sub-Ozieri/Filigosa). According to Giacomo Paglietti
prived of any maternal attribute but recognizable thanks to the explicit expression (2012), the repertoire of the so-called figures with “intertwined arms” or “hands on
of gender through the presence of breasts. chest” introduces another distinct model, less common but still formally interesting,

86 87
2 Sardinian and peninsular female statuary, the nurse-mother holding a child in her
1, 2: Cuccuru s’Arrius (Cabras -
arms has been found in Balkan, Aegean-Anatolian and continental Greek contexts
Oristano); 3: Grotta del Guano (Oliena
- Nuoro); 4: San Salvatore (Cabras within a chronological range that extends beyond the Neolithic.
- Oristano); 5: S’Eredadu (Mamoiada The baitylos of Sa Mandara of Samassi also merits discussion even though it falls
- Nuoro); 6: Su Crucifissu Mannu
outside of the repertoire under consideration here. The figure can be recognized only
(Porto Torres - Sassari); 7: Anghelu
Ruju, Tomb XII (Alghero - Sassari); 8:
by the plastic definition of the trapezoidal face and by the orthogonal eye-nose pattern,
Puisteris (Mogoro - Oristano); 9-11: while the body mass is identified by the pseudo-phallic morphology of the granite sup-
Monte Meana C, B, A (Santadi - port. This artefact belongs within the repertoire of approximately two dozen incised
Iglesias); 12: Marinaru (Sassari); 13:
Anghelu Ruju, Tomb XX b (Alghero -
bowls dating from the Early Neolithic and the transition to the Eneolithic age.
Sassari); 14: Monte d’Accoddi, Tomb II The theory of direct Aegean and Maltese influence over Sardinian production, as
(Sassari); 15: Porto Ferro (Sassari) (no. proposed in outdated literature on the subject, is now commonly agreed to be ob-
4 from Paglietti 2008, the others from
solete. The most authoritative theory today identifies the certain undeniable formal
Lilliu 1999; graphics by L. Baglioni)
and constructive affinities instead as the result of stylistic and aesthetic convergen-
ces generated by the extreme abstraction of the female body, composed through
an essential geometric synthesis, in the context of a “precocious appearance of the
anthropomorphic figurative tendency” in the Sardinian Neolithic (Grotta Verde). This
theory is corroborated by the chronological gap between the Sardinian and Aege-
an-Maltese cultural contexts.
The variability of the diverse formal groups of Sardinian female statuettes, each
further divisible into subgroups or variants, does not obscure the identity of the fe-
male character, who endures through the entire Neolithic era until the dawn of the
Copper Age with an irrefutable physiognomic constancy. The three-dimensional
exemplified by the three statuettes from Monte Meana-Santadi (fig. 2, nos. 9-11) and images are conceived according to a hieratic vision that the viewer perceives in its
repeated in other sites (Conca Illonis, Anghelu Ruju tomb XXIII). complete metaphorical abstraction, as also occurs in Mediterranean and Balkan con-
This model is characterized by a number of details recalling figurines of the vol- texts. The more than 130 examples exhibit a conceptual and symbolic unity which
umetric-naturalistic type (flattened cap, orthogonal eye-nose design, slit eyes, large ensures that the female body structure (maternal or not) is identifiable, regardless of
head and pubic triangle), while the position of the arms echoes other right-angle how naturalistic or geometric the language is or which formal solutions are adopted.
solutions of the cruciform type. What makes this repertoire unique, perhaps related This confers an ontological constancy to these statuettes which defies their dif-
to the bone matter used as support, is its lean, dynamic structure (visible also when ferences and the complex alphabet of the masses and volumes. It also creates an
viewed laterally). This quality is accentuated by the notable constriction above the immediately perceptible symbolic substance that overpowers the secondary differ-
hips and by some barely visible details (the feet) that clearly express a more natu- ences in stylistic details. Minimising the relative importance of these differences
ralistic tendency than the previously described models. and highlighting the shared parameters makes it possible to recognize the symbolic
Still other variants (fig. 2, nos. 1-8), erect or seated, can be differentiated by the constancy that managed to endure for centuries until the ideological, economic and
overall morphology of the body shape (armless or with triangular arms), head and artistic (in objects and constructions) transformations of the first Metal Ages. The
basal appendage, and by the bulging volumes. presence of a sort of iconographic archetype is confirmed by the recurrence of rep-
It is useful here to devote a brief discussion to the kourotrophos of Perfugas, a resentational parameters in diverse languages (geometric, schematic, more or less
small calcareous marl figurine (height 11 cm, width 6.8 cm at the pelvis and 6.6 cm naturalistic), which resulted in the creation of a long-lasting iconic symbolic system.
at the shoulders) belonging to the volumetric-naturalistic iconographic repertoire. Its S.L., M.F.
distinguishing feature is its explicit maternal function, indicated by the presence of
what seems to be an infant resting on his mother’s breast (fig. 1, no. 6). Unfortunately,
the statuette was found outside of its context and the arms in particular are fragmen- Following pages Bibliography Relli 2000; Mussi, Melis 2002; Mussi 2003; Lugliè
Necropolis of Anghelu Ruju, Gombrich 1973; Atzeni 1975–1977 (1978); Antona 2004; Paglietti 2008; Pessina, Tiné 2008; Cicilloni
tary. Nonetheless, of this hypothetical child, there seems to be a small foot (analogous
3200–2800 BC, burial chambers, Ruju 1980; Atzeni 1981; Pitzalis 1982; Trump 1983; 2009; Usai, Lo Schiavo 2009; Melis 2012; Paglietti
to the adult’s foot) at the base of the lower part of a mass that can be interpreted as archaeological site near Alghero, Lilliu 1988; Castaldi 1991; Ferrarese Ceruti 1992; Gui- 2012; Soro 2012; Martini 2016; Martini, Sarti, Vis-
a small bundled body. While this is a unique specimen within the repertoire of small Sassari province, Sardinia, Italy laine 1994; Contu 1997; Antona 1998; Lilliu 1999; entini 2017.

88 89
in arrivo

90 91
6 artefacts and a nucleus of obsidian, is nondescript, and all identifying
and two oyster valves (placed in one of individuality is nullified by the simple
Seated figure
the vessels). T design of the face (the line of the
with head ornament
The ritual nature of the burial is eyes orthogonal to the line of the
Sardinia, Cuccuru s’Arriu, Cabras highlighted by the use of red ochre. nose). The head, with its flattened
Tomb 386 The image expresses the woman’s top, is adorned with a low cylindrical
Neolithic period (V millennium) maternal role; its well-defined, cap created with three horizontal
Limestone, H. 17 cm, W. 9.7 cm harmonious formal structure comprises bands. From this polos, two fringed
Polo Museale della Sardegna – Museo two volumes (lower extremities and bands come down and rest on the
Archeologico Nazionale, Cagliari, inv. torso+arm) which form a solid mass shoulders, starting from elegant ear-
182227 denoting a standing pose, on which covers decorated with lozenges and
sits the cylindrical volume of the garlands; a third band of equal length
Bibliography: Santoni 1999.
head. The two legs, identified as reaches the back of the neck and the
the unusually well-defined, plump top of the back. The flattening may be
This statuette belongs to the grave
thighs, are harmoniously joined with conditioned by an actual typology of
goods found in the hypogeum
the discrete, smaller volume of the hairstyle or cap related to specific roles
burials of Cuccuru s’Arrius (Cabras,
buttocks and also with the obese or status (hypotheses that cannot be
Oristano), brought to light during
triangle of the pelvis, in a sort of documented archaeologically). In terms
emergency excavations in a Middle
volumetric and geometric (cylinder- of the form, however, the flattening
Neolithic context, associated with the
triangle) rhythm that does not serves to give greater emphasis to the
contemporaneous village with huts.
interrupt the transition to the rough, head, abruptly ending the volume that
The thirteen tombs appear as small
massive volume of the torso. The arms must not project upwards any further so
artificial caves with a shaft entrance
extend rigidly along the sides and as not to detract from the solidity of the
and an oven-shaped burial cell. This
merge with the lower extremities at body mass. In addition to conferring
statuette comes from tomb no. 386
the level of the hands. a sense of abundance, opulence and
and was found grasped in the right
The cylindrical volume of the head corpulence to the female image, the
hand of the deceased, who lay in a
stands out from the volume of the detail of the protruding chinstrap also
huddling position with knees bent. As
body, both for the manner of its focuses perception more directly on
offers to him were found four vessels,
construction and for its distinct the face.
fifty bone assegai, parts of what seems
height as compared to the maximum S.L., M.F.
to be a chlorite necklace, several stone
dimension of the object. The face

7 the cruciform plaque typology, which Within the repertoire of perforated
can be identified by the pose (standing plaques, this Porto Ferro example
female Geometric figure
or sitting), the presence or absence of is best associated with statuettes
Sardinia, Turriga (Senorbì) clothing (a skirt), the morphology of the which differ in their lower extremities
Late Neolithic (passage V–IV millennia arms (a horizontal or oblique plaque, (triangular, trapezoidal, rectangular
BC) with no expanded lateral projection), or scoop-shaped). The use of a thin
Marble, H. 43 cm, W. 18 cm the overall contour (also rhomboidal), stone plaque ensures the verticality
Polo Museale della Sardegna – Museo and particular facial features. The of the Porto Ferro figurine, which
Archeologico Nazionale, Cagliari, inv. prestige of this statuette within the is accentuated by the thin neck,
135887 context of Sardinian production also the vertical strips of the arms and
derives from the formal balance of the narrowing above the hips,
Bibliography: Thimme 1980, no. 1;
the construction generated by the uninterrupted in the lateral view
Lilliu 1999, fig. 31.
relationship of the sizes of the three by three slight projections (nose,
This white marble statuette, one of the geometric modules. In fact, the breasts and buttocks). The figure has
finest in the repertoire of small female mathematical rapport between the a tripartite anatomical structure –
statuary of the Neolithic period, was length of the upper section (torso and the short tapered basal appendage
located in the sacred area of the arm+neck and head) and the lower one tapered including the hips, the torso
village inside a circular stone structure (pelvis+lower limbs) is near the value of with the arms, and the upward-
(presumably, a sort of temenos), and the Greek phi, equal to 1.6180339887 . . thrusting head.
thus in a probable sacred-ceremonial . (the golden section or golden number, The expedient of the fretwork in the
context. It has been assigned to the etc.).This irrational number indicates central portion of the torso, originally a
Ozieri facies of the Recent Neolithic. a specific relationship of dimensions, quadrangular shape as in the Senorbì
The figure, which can be taken as an which, in antiquity (including pre- statuette, makes it possible to develop
example of the cruciform typology, Greek) and other historical epochs the arms, which, bent at right angles,
is distinguished by its formal balance (from the Renaissance to Fibonacci’s frame and direct attention to the thin
and by the perfect symmetry of its “recursive succession”), characterized triangular torso. The two small conical
construction. Virtually two-dimensional architectural and figurative structures, breasts are harmoniously proportioned
thanks to the use of the plaque- which were thus perceived as with the length of the torso and thus
support, the structure is perceived particularly harmonious. with the available space. In addition
in three geometric modules. The S.L., M.F. to the strip nose, the face has two thin
long basal appendage – a sub-conic circular incisions indicating the eyes. The
volume with an elongated trapezoidal 8 neck is flattened from the frontal view
silhouette – projects the architecture and slightly convex when seen from
female Geometric figure
of the statuette longitudinally. It also behind. The slight vertical groove on
anticipates the vertical tension of the Sardinia, Porto Ferro (Sassari), domus the back, formally inexplicable, seems
long neck (extended by two shallow, de janas necropolis to divide this anatomical part in half.
oblique, convergent incisions on Early Chalcolithic (IV millennium BC) Finally, also on the back, there is a non-
the torso) that terminates at the top Marble, H. 30 cm, W. 11.5 cm invasive decoration with closely spaced
of the head. This tension is further Polo Museale della Sardegna – Museo short notches on the shoulders and part
emphasized by the elliptical face and Archeologico Nazionale, Cagliari, of the arms. Rather than suggesting an
triangular pilaster-type nose. inv. 62474 ornamental element of the clothing, it
The verticality of the figure seems to be a formal embellishment of
is interrupted by the surface This marble statuette from Porto Ferro the quadrangular structure.
corresponding to the torso and arms, was found in the Porto Ferro domus Like the Senorbì example, this
which are joined in a trapezoidal form de janas tombs near Alghero and is statuette is exceptional for the balance
jutting out on both sides. On the generically attributed to the passage and harmony of its proportions,
quadrangular flat surface, the main through sub-Ozieri and Filigosa facies, and again like the Senorbì figure,
focus of the statuette, are two breasts that is, the transition into the first the relationship of its dimensions
(rather large with respect to the overall Copper Age. Four other figurines approximates the value of the
repertoire) placed exactly in the associated with this one were found Greek phi. In fact, the position of
middle of the vertical dimension of in the same funerary context. Like the two breasts divides the structure
the object. The slight protuberance of the Senorbì example, this statuette is into two segments, whose lengths
the buttocks and two breasts, gender considered to be one of the highest (respectively from the breasts to the
attributes, are elegantly cited through quality works in the repertoire of top of the head and from the breasts
precise geometry by subtraction, with Sardinian female statuettes and an to the bottom of the figure) have a
no emphasis on a maternal function. exemplary model of the perforated rapport approaching 1.6. The sense
The abstraction of the female body plaque typology (the crack at the base of equilibrium is created by another
composed in an extremely essential of the neck does not compromise its dimensional parameter as well, i.e.,
synthesis imbues the figurine with integrity). the relationship between the height of
a great iconic power, in which the Some scholars consider this to be the perforated central plaque and the
subject’s female gender, represented a variant of the cruciform type; in sum of the heights of the neck+head
nude, prevails over her appearance as fact, however, although the Porto and the lower section is likewise
a mother. Ferro figurine has a rigid and very close to 1.6. As in the Senorbì
The Senorbì example is one of the few schematic iconic structure similar figurine, the female gender of this
existing intact figures, and thus one of to that of the cfr. Senorbì model, it Porto Ferro statuette, represented
the few whose original construction can differs in its specific physiognomy, seemingly nude, predominates over
be assessed without any hypothetical including the general proportions, her appearance as a mother.
reconstruction. It represents a variant of formal solutions, and some details. S.L., M.F.

94 95

96 97
An Overview
of Cycladic Figures

he Cyclades, a group of islands arranged in a circle (hence their name)
in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Anatolia, are rich in high quality,
mainly white, marble. This natural resource was exploited in Antiquity,
particularly on Naxos and Paros, and continues to be today. During the Bronze
Age, covering most of the third millennium BC (ca. 2800–2200 BC), the Cyclades
developed a complex culture with an extraordinary marble-carving tradition
specializing in figures and vessels. The figures exerted widespread influence in
Crete, Attica, Southwestern Anatolia and other Aegean regions through export
and local imitation.
The antecedents to the typical Cycladic works occur throughout the Aegean in the
Neolithic period, beginning about 5000 BC. The representations are predominantly
of women, characterized by exaggerated buttocks and thighs, shown standing or
sitting with folded legs.
Between about 3000 and 2800 BC, a significant innovation occurred in the Cy-
Standing steatopygous clades with the appearance of a svelte, relatively more naturalistic form of figure
figure known as the Plastiras type. About a quarter of these are male; seated figures now
Cyclades come to an end. Violin-shaped examples and stone vessels called kandilas, possibly
Neolithic period
storage vessels containing water for the dead, appear as well.
(late V millennium BC)
Private Collection, UK The classic reclining folded-arm figures, with the proper left over the right, emerge
(cat. 10, detail) about 2700 BC. The varieties, conventionally named after significant find-sites, doc-
ument a gradual, uneven, stylistic evolution. The major groups during the third
millennium BC are called Kapsala, Early Spedos, Late Spedos, Dokathismata and
Chalandriani. Careful study has been able to demonstrate that, among the “classic”
Cycladic figures, subgroups can be recognized according to systems of proportions
based on subdivisions of a circle. This observation as well as details of articulation
underlie the identification of individual carvers. Each work remains unique in its
own way, within a discernible artistic practice.
The Early Spedos reclining figures are robustly built, some quite large, the head
usually lyre-shaped. Their design reveals particular care. The greatest width of the
body is often half of the total length; each of the major anatomical units, notably
the head and neck as well as the calves and feet, is often a quarter of the length.
The phase is also distinguished by the variety of special types – seated male figures
playing a harp-like instrument or holding a vessel, the standing male playing pipes,
seated females, groups etc.

98 99
The Late Spedos figure can be very large, with a lyre-shaped head, broad sloping
shoulders, the leg-cleft unpierced and the profile view quite straight. The Goulandris
Sculptor stands out as the most prolific, over a long career; more than a hundred
complete works and fragments have been identified. His creations epitomize the calm
restraint and harmony of proportions that one associates with Cycladic sculpture.
With the Dokathismata and its further development, the Chalandriani variety, the
straight profile continues, the front and back tend to be flat, with abrupt bulges for
breasts, belly, knees and buttocks. The outline contours of the legs are angular, the
leg cleft shallow. There is a greater emphasis on the upper torso and the position of
the arms, which had remained constant for so long, now can vary. The head often
assumes a shield shape. The severity of the Dokathismata figure is relieved by an
elegant rendering of the forearms and the bold audacity of the stylized forms (cat. n°
22-23). Around 2300–2200 BC, representations of an armed male are introduced. The
hunter-warrior wearing a baldric, a belt and a penis sheath suggests the presence
of a threat to the islanders. It may therefore be no coincidence that the art of mar-
ble-carving, which had flourished over six hundred years, then came to an abrupt
end. Significantly, the revival of the art, during the late seventh century BC, the Greek
Archaic period, originated on the same marble rich islands.
The function(s) of Cycladic figures cannot be identified with certainty, but evidence
for their repair and abundant remains of polychromy makes clear that they were
Violin figure
actively used during the lives of their owners before they were placed in tombs. They
Cyclades were brightly painted, notably with almond-shaped eyes and a mass of hair across
Early Cycladic I period (3300–2700 BC)
the forehead and down the back. Red and blue seem to be symbolically important,
Ligabue Collection, Venice
(cat. 13) and repainting seems to have occurred repeatedly, of the eyes in particular. Some of
the repainting may have taken place as part of women’s rituals. One might speculate
that the female image represented a protective maternal being with control over
such mysterious phenomena as birth, death, disease, the seasons, the bountiful yet
treacherous sea, the night sky alive with myriad stars, the rising and setting of the
sun. Shamanistic rituals may have been performed on the occasion of events having
to do with puberty, marriage, conception, pregnancy, childbirth, illness and death.
There are female Cycladic figures shown as pregnant or with postpartum creases.
The folded arms may have been regarded as symbolically shielding the womb, in
addition to minimizing damage to the figure. In the tomb, the position with folded
arms would, finally, have been appropriate for funerary rites.

This text is adapted from Getz-Gentle 2011, with Bibliography

Following pages kind permission of Alexandra Lerner, daughter of the Getz-Preziosi 1990a; Getz-Preziosi 1990b; Getz-Gentle
Naxos Island, Cyclades, Greece author. 2001; Getz-Gentle 2011.

100 101
in arrivo

102 103
9 L’Art des Cyclades des débuts à la fin the line separating the buttocks, the said to come from Patissia (Athens), 14
Getz-Preziosi 1990a, no. 2, p. 6 (with
de l’Âge du Bronze (1957). Pat Getz- other crossing it at right angles. This as well as the “Fat Lady” from previous bibliography). The piece appears as
Seated female figure Weinberg 1951, no. 4, p. 123 and Weinberg
Gentle considers that the publication figure has lost its head and right arm Saliagos. The lack of clear dating or
with crossed legs 1976, no. 29, p. 60.
in Cahiers d’Art was a favour to and is heavily weathered, considerably provenances for these pieces, and 15
Getz-Preziosi 1990b, no. 8a, pp. 13–15 with
Cyclades, said to be from Amorgos Segredakis, giving free publicity to his altering its appearance. Where the the long period when they could have
previous bibliography (alleged provenance
Late Neolithic period ownership of the piece.7 At any rate, Saliagos statue markedly differs from been made (over 1,000 years), makes is Euboea or the east coast of Attica
(V–IV millennia BC) the piece was sold that same year to the Brussels one is in size since it it difficult to take these comparisons opposite, near Porto Raphti). In Thimme
Marble, H. 18.5 cm, W. 13.3 cm the Brussels museum. A letter dated measures only 6.7 cm (without the much further.17 1976, under catalogue no. 4, it is mentioned
Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, 13 April 1929, from Segredakis to head). Recent excavations in Greece The sculptures found in the Cyclades as belonging to a Swiss private collection.
Brussels, inv. A.3029 Fernand Mayence, then Senior Keeper have brought more Neolithic figurines were either accidental finds (Naxos) This piece does not appear in Weinberg
of the Antiquities collection, explained to light, mainly terracotta ones. They or were not found in an informative 1976.
The Neolithic period saw the earliest that he was sending the piece to him show that human representations, in archaeological context (Saliagos).18
Although the shape of the upper arm is
not so clear on the front of Shelby White no.
traces of sculpture in the Greek world. so he could decide if he wanted to buy particular female ones, were common Generally speaking, most figurines
2, it stands out from the back.
Many materials were used, including it. In a further letter dated 14 July, he at that time across the Greek world, across the Greek world were found 17
For a much wider comparison of Neolithic
terracotta, bone, shell and stone.1 expressed his hopes that the Brussels but also show up regional variations in settlements rather than in tombs, figurines, see Weinberg 1951, pp. 124–133;
Representations vary from extremely museum would acquire the piece and in poses and styles.11 In 1976, Saul although there are a few exceptions. Weinberg 1976, pp. 54–58.
abstract (“pebbles”) to much more said that others were also interested Weinberg established a list of all the When accompanying material gives 18
The Saliagos “Fat Lady” was found during
realistic.2 This well preserved marble in it, including the Museum at The stone Neolithic figurines he knew, a some indication as to the use of the excavations, but in a square beyond the built
sculpture is one of the finest examples Hague, the Metropolitan Museum list that has, to my knowledge, not spaces in which they were found, this structures without any significant information
of a very rare class and its simple lines of Art, and the modern sculptor been updated.12 Although some were points towards food conservation regarding its context of use.
and clear geometric shapes found Lipschitz. The acquisition of the piece found all over the Greek world, from or processing (cooking) or towards
On these questions, see Marangou 1996a.
For an overview of Neolithic sites and
surprising echoes in twentieth-century was accepted a few days later. The Thessaly to Crete and the islands, wool working (loom weights). As a
artefacts from the Cyclades, Renfrew 1972,
art. It represents a seated female Royal Museums of Art and History few of them are seated. Indeed, the result, these objects may have been
pp. 507–509; for a brief presentation of the
figure with her legs crossed in front had already bought some pieces from position with the legs crossed, or associated with domestic economy Neolithic culture in the Greek world, Lichter
of her, one above the other, rather Segredakis in 1914, but nothing since seemingly crossed, is attested mainly but we do not have any real indication 2011, pp. 32–40 with bibliography.
than actually crossing. The head and then. From 1929 until his death in in the Cyclades (Saliagos, Naxos) about how they were regarded or
References: Hogarth 1927, pp. 56, 59–60 and
neck form a single column, separated 1948, however, the museum regularly and possibly Attica, which would used.19
fig. VIIa, IXc.; Verhoogen 1930; Weinberg
from the body only by a groove, acquired objects from him, including tend to confirm that the Brussels M.N.
1951, p. 123, no. 5.; Renfrew 1972, p. 509;
and with a protruding nose and an several Mycenaean items. sculpture does indeed come from Weinberg 1976, p. 58 and list no. 19, p. 59;
Wood was probably also used although
engraved line for the mouth or chin. Provenance: In a letter dated 6 July the islands. Of the dozens of known no sculpture in this material has been Thimme 1976, cat. 2, p. 419 and p. 210, fig.
The upper body is a broad, flat and 1929, Segredakis referred to the stone figurines, three are very close preserved. 2; Getz-Gentle 2011, p. 13, fig. 3.
rectangular shape, leaning backwards statue as: “la statuette pré-hellénique to the Brussels sculpture not just 2
See e.g. the examples from Saliagos.
from the lower body. The shoulder en marbre des îles grecques”. In typologically, but also stylistically: 3
See most recently on this important figure
line is very long, the rounded forms her publication of the piece the a statue found fortuitously on the of the antiques art market, Driessen 2016,
of the upper arms visible at front following year, Violette Verhoogen, island of Naxos, at Sangri,13 and two p. 122.
and back. The arms are bent at right the curator for Greek antiquities in in the Shelby White collection in New
Hogarth 1927, pp. 56–60, pl. VIIa (front)
and IXc (back).
angles, while the fingers, separated by Brussels, described it as Cycladic or York; for clarity’s sake, I will call the 5
Michon 1929, p. 256 and fig. 6 who
grooves, seem to touch at waist level. from the islands.8 It was apparently bigger one “Shelby White no. 1”14
specifies that he includes this piece
The breasts are clearly modelled, Saul Weinberg, in 1951, who for the and the smaller one “Shelby White as Segredakis accepted to have it
as if hanging from either side of the first time referred to it as “found no. 2”.15 The Brussels and Shelby photographed. The caption of the
neck. The lower body is a heavily long ago, apparently on Amorgos” White no. 1 sculptures are close in photograph is as follows: “Idole primitive.
rounded mass with strongly protruding (p. 123). Since then, this has become size (respectively 18.5 cm and 20.3 Appartient à M. Segredakis”.
buttocks, separated by a groove. its alleged provenance. If the author cm) whereas the one found on Naxos 6
Getz-Gentle 2011, pp. 10–11.
A horizontal bulge below the waist had a well-founded reason for giving is only about half their size (9.2 cm)
Ibid., p. 13.
marks the lower part of the stomach. Amorgos as its find place, he did not and the Shelby White no. 2 is 13 cm.
Verhoogen 1930, pp. 23, 24, 26.
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum of Art
The lower legs are very prominent, put it in writing. The general geometric shape, the
and Archaeology, inv. 1895, 166 (AE 148).
knees and toes marked with knobs. When this figure was first published, juxtaposition of a somewhat conical
Hogarth 1927 indicates in the caption of
The left foot of the figure is clearly in 1927, it could be compared to head and neck on a rectangular this piece that it comes from Amorgos.
visible. The underside of the figure is only one other, in the Ashmolean upper body set on a rounded heavy Weinberg 1951, p. 122 gave the provenance
flat and slightly curved. History: The museum in Oxford.9 Since then, lower body can all be compared. as Patissia (Athens), as is written on the
sculpture was bought from Manolis several seated female stone figures The volume of the upper arms is object. See also Weinberg 1976, p. 59 and
Segredakis (1891–1948) a well-known have come to light. Most notable depicted in a very similar manner on Thimme 1976, no. 5, p. 420.
Cretan art dealer, based in Paris, in is the “Fat Lady” of Saliagos, the all examples.16 The position of the
Evans and Renfrew 1968, pp. 62–63.
1929.3 It had been published two years only one of these sculptures found bent arms, with the fingers touching,
For examples, see Marangou 1996b;
Orphanidi 1996; Papathanassopoulos
earlier by D.G. Hogarth in a volume of in some sort of context. She was and the way the legs and toes are
1996b and the section of the catalogue of
essays in honour of Sir Arthur Evans as discovered during excavations on sculpted, all match closely. On the
Papathanassopoulos 1996a titled “figurines
“in private possession”.4 The statue Saliagos, an islet formerly connected Shelby White no. 1 and Naxos pieces, and models”, pp. 293–323.
then appeared with a large photo in to the nearby island of Antiparos, in the head is separated from the neck, 12
Weinberg 1976, pp. 59–60; the figurine
a 1919 article by Étienne Michon in the Cyclades.10 She is quite similar which is not the case with the Brussels which appears in the same catalogue
Cahiers d’Art,5 a journal published by in general appearance, with a heavy and Shelby White no. 2 examples. The (Thimme 1976) as no. 4 is not in his list. See
Christian Zervos and devoted mainly rounded lower body and a thinner, buttocks are often more rounded than already, for seated figurines, Weinberg 1951,
to contemporary art. Zervos himself upright upper body, possibly originally on the Brussels example. The Shelby pp. 121–133.
was very interested in Cycladic art also close to rectangular in shape White no. 1 statue also presents a
First mentioned in Journal of Hellenic
Studies, 96, 1946, p. 115 and in Bulletin de
and acquired some pieces from, although the shoulder line appears decorative pattern on the upper arms,
Correspondences Helléniques, 71–72, 1947–
amongst others, Segredakis who was more curved. Her legs are actually which is unique. A few other seated
1948, p. 440 with photo. Weinberg 1951, no.
a friend.6 Zervos published several crossed and her buttocks more female figures are less close in style 7, p. 124; See Zachos 1990, p. 34 and fig. p.
important books on early Greek art rounded. The underside presents although their general appearance is 33; Zachos 1990 and Zachos 1996 (both with
and this statue is referred to in his two grooves, one a continuation of similar, such as a figurine in Oxford, photo). Weinberg 1976, no. 21, p. 59.

104 105

Standing steatopygous

Neolithic period
(late V millennium BC)
Shell, H. 5.7 cm, W. 3.3 cm
Private Collection, UK

Bibliography: Thimme 1977, no. 9;

Getz-Gentle 2011, no. 2.

Carved from the central axis of

a conical sea shell, this exquisite
apparition is a perfect example of
the standing female figure made
in small numbers throughout the
Aegean in the fifth millennium, with
exaggerated buttocks and thighs,
unusually broad shoulders, forearms
carved on the body in a symmetrical,
opposed arrangement. Typical are
the elongated head and the small
rudimentary feet separated by an
inverted V shape space. Constructed
from carefully balanced geometric
volumes, this tiny figure achieves
a forceful monumentality. Parallel
examples were found at Egina.


Violin figure

Early Cycladic I period (3300–2700 BC)
Marble, H. 11 cm
Private Foundation, UK

Bibliography: Thimme 1977, no. 48.

106 107

Violin figure

Early Cycladic I period (3300–2700 BC)
Marble, H. 23 cm, W. 10 cm
Private Collection, Paris

Bibliography: Getz-Gentle 2011, no. 9.

The simplified flat figures with long

stalk head-neck and body shaped
in a figure of eight, called violin,
were made in great numbers in the
beginning of the early Bronze Age of
the Cyclades. Violin figures are rarely
decorated, but this is an exception: a V
is incised at the neckline and another,
inverted and larger, on the lower part
indicates the sexual triangle, complete
with a discreet slot. These abstract
figures were introduced at the same
time as a new, elaborated type called
Plastiras, a svelte form that retains
some of the realistic rendition of the
Neolithic figures, but elongated.


Violin figure

Early Cycladic I period (3300–2700 BC)
Marble, H. 13.8 cm, W. 4.6 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

Bibliography: Thimme 1977, pp. 226,

431, no. 43.

A dynamic example, remarkable for

the angular figure-of-eight body
and elongated neck and waist. The
head and neck are schematized and
blended together in a single long
stalk, similar to the stalk of a number
or figures from the Beycesultan type:
this is an indication of the relationship
between the island and western
Anatolia. The two sides are almost
identical, but not quite, one side,
probably the back, is slightly flatter
than the other (the front?) with a faint
swelling at the height of the hips and
breasts. Other violin figures shown
here are unambiguously sexed and
oriented as to front and back, while
comparable violin-shaped types from
Beycesultan and Kusura in western
Anatolia tend to have identical,
un-oriented back and front. This
difference may reside in different
functions of the figure during their life
before deposition.


Pregnant reclining figure

Early Spedos type

Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 19.6 cm, W. 6 cm
Private Collection, UK

Bibliography: Getz-Gentle 2011,

no. 27.


reclining figure

Early Spedos type

Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 19.9 cm
Private Collection, UK (courtesy

Bibliography: Thimme 1977, no. 144.


Pregnant reclining figure

Late Spedos type

Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 20.3 cm
Private Collection, London

Bibliography: Getz-Gentle 2011, no.


Like no. 14, this figure is

unambiguously pregnant, but the
belly is more compressed. The very
elongated neck, the sloping shoulders,
the concave contour of the thighs
and ankles give this figure its inspired
and dynamic balance. The straighter
profile of the legs and the absence of
perforation are characteristic of the
Late Spedos style.

110 111

Pregnant reclining figure

Late Spedos type

Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 37.2 cm, W. 8.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Reclining female figure

Late Spedos type

Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 47 cm
Private Collection, Germany

Bibliography: Getz-Gentle 2011,

no. 42.

This figure is remarkable for the

numerous painted marks, possibly
indicative of tattoos: the cross on
the chest is so far without parallel.
More frequent are the paler marks
on the face and arms: three vertical
above the neck, three on the right
cheek, possibly another series along
the forehead, and pale traces on the
forearm. The contrasted proportions
of the large head and compressed
torso, the shortened ankles and
elongated feet are distinctively
personal, encouraging Pat Gentle to
reconstruct the work of an individual
master, the Sutton Place Sculptor,
around this masterpiece.

112 113

Head of reclining female

Head of reclining female
Late Spedos type
Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC) Late Spedos type
Marble, H. 14.8 cm, W. 9 cm Cyclades
Private Collection, Paris Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 11.5 cm, W. 6.5 cm
Softly round cheeks, general contour Private Collection, Paris
in the shape of a capital U. Note the
veining of the marble: the sculptor A graceful face, the softly round cheeks,
took advantage of the natural veining the forehead slightly flaring in a lyre
on the upper part of the head to shape and the gently curved profile
suggest the presence of large, contrast with the straight nose. Very
drooping eyes. faint traces of large, drooping eyes.
C.A. C.A.

114 115
21 development of the collection. The figurines that represent drinking
sitting harp player belongs to a rare people. But is the banquet based in
Harp player Cyclades
group of figurines of “special shapes”, real life, in the hereafter or in a divine
Thera the coroplastic of the early Cycladic sphere? Unless we have no clearer
Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC) time is quantitatively dominated by evidence of the use of the figurines,
Marble, H. 16.8 cm, W. 5.5 cm the upright standing female idols with we are not able to give a satisfactory
Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe, folded arms (FAF), of which we count answer. However, we know for sure:
inv. 864 over 1,600 known pieces. Among the people of the third millennium BC
groups of special forms are musicians, loved good music.
Bibliography: Buchholz &
standing figurines playing flutes and H.K.
Karageorghis 1973, no. 1210; Thimme
sitting harp players. Regardless of
1976, p. 492, no. 255; Thimme 1977, p. References: Horst 2011; Mikrakis 2011.
their body posture the musicians
496, no. 255; Rehme 1997, p. 84, K 13,
follow the “canon” of the FAF-group
fig. 9 left.
with schematic features. Particularly
At the time Friedrich Maler acquired significant is the face often thrown
parts of the collection of the Swedish backwards on the neck – like here –
diplomat Nils Gustaf Palin in the and the small nose as the only feature
year 1840 he was not interested in indicated. Many studies have shown
prehistoric artefacts at all, in fact he that the now empty spaces do not
had no idea what the small idols and represent the ancient situation. The
cups made of marble were about features of the faces and parts of the
anyway. The five items – two Cycladic bodies were indicated by painting.
idols and three cups (one lost) – with In the stylistic classification of the
the indication “from a grave on the Cycladic idols, the Karlsruhe harp
island of Thera” were part of the player belongs to the end of the so-
“package” Maler bought in Rome. It called Pelos-Grotta-phase, middle of
was already Maler’s third journey to the third millennium BC. All known
Rome; in the first (1826–1828), he was harp player figurines sit on a low stool
a student of architecture and got in or “throne” (stool with backrest) – in
contact with the German intelligenzia, this case a simple stool – with the
poets, priests and archaeologists, same kind of instrument: a closed
well-established persons in the Roman triangle with a rectangular resonance
society. These good connections were body which lies on the players’ thigh.
the basis for his second successful It has already been established that
journey in 1837: he was sent by the this kind of instrument comes from
grand duke of Baden in Karlsruhe to the Middle East (see essay in this
acquire Greek vases and terracottas catalogue by Bo Lawergren p. 00-00).
for the recently founded Museum This circumstance is not surprising,
called “Kunsthalle” in Karlsruhe. since it is known that the inhabitants of
On that journey he realized that the Cyclades were in close contact and
among the antique findings from the commercial exchange with the people
Etruscan tombs not only fine pottery from the coast of the Middle East. The
and statuettes were worth collecting closed form of the instrument creates
and to be presented in a museum exact tones, delicate sounds and a rich
(with the aim to educate on crafts volume. It needs professional players
and artists), but also Etruscan bronze to play this instrument and to achieve
objects. Maler tried to convince satisfactory results. The qualitative
the duke to expand the order to be representation of the human in a
allowed to buy bronzes, but the duke figurine made of the best material of
showed no interest in his proposal. that time – marble – whose production
Three years later Maler came back requires very elaborate skills allows
to Rome for a third visit, this time us to assume that the player enjoyed
for a private shopping tour. He high social prestige.
bought a considerable selection of The question arises: who is portrayed
bronzes and other collection parts in in this figure? A human, a divine
between the already mentioned one person or a god himself? While the
of Gustaf Palin. Back in Karlsruhe, interpretation of the folded arm
Maler faced his retirement in 1853. At figures has been widely discussed with
this particular time the Grand duke the result that they have been used
fortunately changed his mind and for repeated and different use as an
bought his private collection. Since intermediary between the human and
then the Badisches Landesmuseum the divine sphere – this identification
is able to show an extraordinary fine is based on the different painted
collection of antiques with some decoration of the figurines – we do not
objects from the Aegean dated to have many interpretation possibilities
the Early Bronze Age. The collection concerning the harp players. The
brought together by Friedrich Maler association with the banquet relies
represents the basis for the later broad on the fact that there are other sitting

116 117

Reclining female figure

Dokathismata type
Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 15.3 cm
Private Collection London

Bibliography: Thimme 1977, no. 232;

Getz-Gentle 2011, no. 51.

This is a boldly stylized figure of the

Dokathismata group, characterized
by a profile straighter than in the Late
Spedos. Front and rear tend to be
flatter, with abrupt bulges for breasts,
belly and buttocks, erupting from
the main surface. In an attempt to
free himself from inert material, the
sculptor challenged the difficulty of
the marble by cutting out audacious
openings between the upper arms and
torso, and between the legs almost
up to the groin. These openings, in
a rather thin depth, certainly account
for the breaks. The piece probably
comes from what is called the “Keros
hoard”. This vast assemblage was
looted repeatedly from an enigmatic
site, Kavos, on the small island of
Keros, which lies between Naxos and
Amorgos, in the heart of the Cyclades.


Reclining female figure

Dokathismata type
Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Marble, H. 7 cm, W. 5.1 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

Bibliography: Azara, Nicolau et al.

2000, p. 174, no. 62; Ligabue, Rossi-
Osmida 2006, p. 159.

An elegant figure with all the

characteristics of the Dokathismata
variety, flat body and bulging buttocks
and breasts, without the audacious
openings of arms and legs of the
previous work (no. XX). Probably from
the Keros hoard.

118 119

120 121

he depiction of the human figure on Cyprus spans many thousands of years
and the figurative material is rich and abundant. Depending on the chron-
ological period, figurines come in a variety of forms and types of material.
Recent research focusing on Cypriot prehistoric figurines has become increasingly
more multidisciplinary, with contributions from a wide range of fields, such as bio-
archaeology, anthropology, sociology, gender studies and ethnography. Furthermore,
the archaeology of the body, a fairly recent field in Cypriot archaeology, has enhanced
our understanding of prehistoric communities on Cyprus.
Prehistoric figurines would have been symbolically charged objects with an active
role in the construction, maintenance and negotiation of personal and social identities
of ancient communities. Their various interpretations address a variety of issues, such
as ritual behaviour, political power, social identity and gender roles, just to mention
a few. Unfortunately, the study and interpretation of Cypriot prehistoric figurines is
often confronted with obstacles, such as lack of information on provenance (a large
percentage are products of illicit excavation, for example), or the fact that they are
Cruciform figure Cyprus
not often found in the context of their primary usage (they are often discovered as
Chalcolithic period
grave goods or as part of ritual hoards).
(IV millennium BC) The earliest anthropomorphic figurines from Cyprus, two made of stone and
Ligabue Collection, Venice one of baked clay, have been unearthed at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) site
(cat. 32)
of Agia Varvara-Asprokremmos (ca. 9000 BC) (Fig. 1). These figurines seem to be
associated with the site’s abandonment episodes, acting perhaps as “gifts” on top
of the abandonment fill of structures. From the following Pre-Pottery Neolithic B
period (8400–6400 BC) a plaster anthropomorphic head has been found at the site
of Parekklisha-Shillourokambos and from the site of Kritou-Marottou-Ais Giorkis
(ca. 7500 BC) comes the lower part of a female figurine with characteristic incised
decoration, possibly representing female genitalia.
Human representations next appear in the seventh millennium BC and most come
from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Choirokoitia (Cat n° 25). These very sche-
matic figurines demonstrate high levels of workmanship. Most are carved in solid
igneous stone, (andesite, diabase and serpentine) although the site has produced
an exceptional human head modelled in clay (Fig. 2). The modelling of the body of
Late Aceramic Neolithic figurines is abstract in form, and although no explicit gen-
der characteristics are indicated on most examples, some display an unmistakable
phallic-shaped neck and head, a characteristic that continues into the Chalcolithic

122 123
period. A few examples are ambiguous or dimorphic, traits that also persist until the 3
Cruciform and phallic female figure
end of the fourth millennium.
wearing a similar figure as necklace
The Ceramic Neolithic period (5500–3900 BC) has yielded a much lower number Yialia, Cyprus
of figurines. The small number that has been unearthed continue to be schematic IV millennium BC
and to demonstrate sexual ambiguity or dimorphism. Such ambiguous figurines have
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
been found at the Ceramic Neolithic settlements of Sotira-Teppes (Cat. n° 24), Ayios Nicosia, inv. 1934/III-2/2
Epiktitos-Vrysi, Kantou-Kouphovounos and Sotira-Arkolies.
The picture changes quite dramatically in the Early and Middle Chalcolithic period
(ca. 3900–2800 BC), a period of social and economic transformation. At this time,
there is evidence for a substantial population growth, as well as signs of social ine-
qualities and intensified contact with neighbouring regions. This is also the period
when copper was first used in Cyprus. This resource would later bring great pros-
perity to the island and would finally take its name from Cyprus itself. It is within this
general framework that a highly distinctive sculptural tradition developed, suggesting
an island-wide symbolic system. In comparison with Late Neolithic anthropomorphs,
Schematic female figure
in the Chalcolithic period figurines are higher in number and more stylized. There
Agia Varvara-Asprokremmos, Cyprus is definitely an increased interest in the depiction of the human form and the use
VII–VI millennia BC of clay and painted decoration contributed towards the production of anthropo-
morphic figurines, statuettes and vessels with more detailed features, such as facial
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
Nicosia, inv. G848 characteristics, toes and fingers, jewellery, clothing and perhaps body painting and/
or tattoos. The painted decoration noted on the clay figurines is elaborate and re-
sembles that of the pottery repertoire of the period. Figurines now bear a variety of
painted designs, such as latticing, vertically hatched panels, wavy and parallel lines.
On Chalcolithic figurines there is also a tendency to indicate or emphasise gender
(most of the figurines that preserve indications of gender are female) and it seems
that they address themes related to sexuality, fertility and reproduction. Nevertheless, female breasts, genitalia, swollen belly and broad hips greatly contrasting with the
sexual ambiguity is a characteristic that continues from the Neolithic period. One of phallic-shaped head.
the most emblematic sculptures of the Chalcolithic, the famous “Lemba Lady” (see The hallmark of the Cypriot Chalcolithic is no doubt the very distinctive cruciform
Cat. n° 27) expresses such an ambiguity or dimorphism, with the figure’s incised anthropomorph that is known primarily from sites in SW Cyprus (e.g. Erimi-Pambou-
la, Lemba-Lakkous, Souskiou-Laona, Souskiou-Vathyrkakas, Kissonerga-Mosphilia
and Kissonerga-Mylouthkia). More than 100 examples of this form are known, pre-
Human head
Choirokoitia, Cyprus dominantly made from picrolite (Cat.n° 28-32) but also of limestone and clay and
IV millennium BC discovered in Early and Middle Chalcolithic. Picrolite, a green-blue soft indigenous
Unbaked clay
stone of the Troodos ophiolithic formation, was already sculpted in the PPNA and
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
Nicosia, inv. Khir. 1063 PPNB, but in the Chalcolithic its use dramatically increased. Picrolite is seen by re-
searchers as a high status material and therefore the figurines that were sculpted out
of this resource are considered to have been prestige items within the Chalcolithic
communities. The bent knees and outstretched arms of cruciform figurines suggest
birthing postures: a parturient mother would have been squatting and probably held
from behind by assistants, as seen in later, Cypro-Archaic figurines. The Chalcolithic
picrolite cruciforms vary in style and size, ranging from schematised grooved or
pierced pendants that measure only a few centimetres (worn individually or with
shell necklaces), to larger examples, such as the famous cruciform from Yialia (15
cm tall) (Fig. 3) that is depicted on the reverse of the Cyprus one and two euro coins.

124 125
4 This figure wears a pendant around its neck of a smaller representation of itself. (ten of stone and eight of pottery), anthropomorphic vessels, a terracotta model stool,
Woman giving birth
The meaning and use of the picrolite anthropomorphic figurines and pendants a complete triton shell, a bone needle, as well as various groundstone pebbles and
Kissonerga-Mosphilia, Cyprus
IV millennium BC has been much discussed and interpretations vary. They are seen as fertility deities tools. All the objects were found ceremoniously packed in and around the building
Painted clay or birth charms. They have also been interpreted as teaching props for initiation model and several of the figurines depict women in the act of giving birth. Among
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
ceremonies, vehicles for sympathetic magic or symbolic images of fertility and ma- them is a unique pottery figurine depicting a parturient female: a baby’s head and
Nicosia, inv. KM 1451
ternity. It has also been suggested that they would have emphasized the individu- arms are shown, in red paint, emerging between her parted legs (missing) (Fig. 4).
ality of community members, enhancing their social identities. Such figurines have Originally, the figurine would have sat on a birthing stool, in a position that is known
been found both in Chalcolithic tombs and settlements, such as at the necropolis of in the figurine assemblage of this period. The woman is wearing a cruciform pen-
Souskiou-Vathyrkakas and the settlement of Souskiou-Laona, where there is evidence dant around her neck, confirming the important link between cruciform figurines/
for the production of picrolite cruciform figurines. pendants and childbirth. The different types and wear patterns on the Mosphilia
Numerous clay figurines also survive dated to the Chalcolithic period. Most of figurines suggest that the stone ones would have been clutched in the hand, while
these seem to be depicting females involved in activities linked with birthing and the clay ones, which were free-standing, may have been used as teaching aids in
rearing children. They are often shown squatting, with swollen bellies and large puberty rituals concerned with pregnancy and birthing. The Kissonerga-Mosphilia
hips, sometimes seated on birthing stools, in the act of birthing, with their hands on cache indicates that specific rituals would have been performed during the filling of
their breasts or even extracting milk from their breasts. Their heads are disk-like the pit with objects. Intentional breakages noted on the round-house model and on
with facial features that in some cases are abstract and in others naturalistic. Their the figurines themselves, as well as the application of a secondary coating of clay
bodies are often richly decorated with incised or painted decoration indicating body slip used to conceal the model’s painted decoration and the final burial of the cache
adornment and anatomical details, in some cases modelled very realistically. The point towards the performance of some kind of closure ceremony.
fragmentary condition of these clay birthing figurines, the abrasion patterns noted There is a notable absence of anthropomorphic figurines and pendants from Late
on them, as well as the fact that they have mainly been found in settlement contexts Chalcolithic contexts, although picrolite pendants continued to be produced in other,
suggest that they were probably handled in daily life during various stages of the non-anthropomorphic forms. These developments in the island’s material culture
life cycle. seem to reflect social transformations that occurred during the Late Chalcolithic, such
A unique deposit of representational art indicating ritual activity was excavated as the intensified cultural interaction with communities beyond Cyprus. At the end
at the Chalcolithic settlement of Kissonerga-Mosphilia, in the Pafos district, where of the third millennium BC, following a 500-year hiatus, figurative art reappeared in
a ceremonial area was unearthed comprising of pits filled with ash, heat-cracked Cyprus, taking however entirely different forms and styles and linked with different
stones and clay vessels. In one of the pits, a Red-on-White painted building model ideologies and social conditions.
was found, containing around fifty objects. These included anthropomorphic figurines A.E.

Bibliography: Dikaios 1934, pl. VI:1, p. 16; Dikaios 1999, pp. 49–50; Guilaine, Briois 2001, p. 51; Bolger
1953, fig. 98; Caubet 1974; Vagnetti 1974; Vagnet- 2003, pp. 101–102; Goring 2003; Guilaine 2003, p.
ti 1975; Peltenburg 1975, p. 35, fig. VI right; Kara- 334; Goring 2006, p. 75; Peltenburg 2006; McCartney,
georghis 1977; Peltenburg 1982b; Swiny H.W., Swiny Manning, Sewell, Stewart 2007, pp. 35–36; McCartney,
S. 1983; Morris 1985; Peltenburg 1989, pp. 115–116; Croft, Manning, Rosendahl 2010; Peltenburg 2011;
Goring 1991a, p. 158; Goring 1991b; Karageorghis McCartney, Manning, Stewart 2012, p. 81, fig. 2(A);
1991, pp. 1–43, figs. I–XVIII; Peltenburg 1991a; Simmons 2012, fig. 6; Knapp 2013, p. 239; Alphas,
Peltenburg 1991b, p. 114, fig. 1(C); Peltenburg 1991c; Zachariou-Kaila 2015, pp. 26–35; Bolger 2016, pp.
Xenophontos 1991; Campo 1994; Le Brun 1994; Man- 52–53; Georgious 2016; Mina, Triandafyllou, Papa-
tzourani 1994, p. 32, fig. I, pl. V.2; Goring 1998; Reese datos 2016; McCartney 2017, p. 53, fig. 9.

126 127
Early and Middle Bronze Age

he reappearance of the anthropomorphic representation dates according to
our present knowledge to the end of the Early Bronze Age, a period marked
by major innovations and associated with new settlers, who arrived from
the Anatolian mainland. These innovations, which changed social realities, included
changes in domestic life, new ways of cooking, spinning and weaving, childcare
practices, agricultural techniques and equipment, the reintroduction of cattle, as
well as the systematic exploitation of the island’s rich copper resources. From the
beginning of the Early Bronze Age the use of extramural necropolises and rock-cut
chamber tombs with multiple, sometimes secondary burials, became widespread
in Cyprus.
The human figure, along with the animal figure, appears attached on the shoul-
ders of clay vessels and on models in Red Polished ware – the pottery fabric par
excellence of this period – composed of figured representations connected with
religious rituals as well as everyday life. Additionally, freestanding human figures,
Clay two-necked
in the same pottery fabric, make their appearance, which are referred to in the lit-
plank-shaped figurine
Red polished - VERIFY!!! erature as “plank-shaped”. Stylistically, they are all very similar, in that they have

Cyprus, Deneia, no provenance

flat rectangular bodies and long rectangular necks. Apart from the nose, which is
Middle Bronze Age I (2000–1850 BC) shown in relief, and the perforated ears, the facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) and
Department of Antiquities Cyprus, hair on the back are incised and filled with white paste. Other motifs on the face
Nicosia, inv. 1943/IV-13/4
probably denote a form of tattoos or paint. Elaborate incised decorative motifs on the
(cat. 35, detail)
torso indicate garments with woven patterns and adornment decorating the neck,
arms and fingers, such as multi-stranded beaded necklaces, bracelets and rings.
The numerous picrolite and faience beads found in funerary contexts were probably
parts of similar ornaments as well as the metal jewellery pieces. Moreover, some
plank figures feature two incised oblique lines running along the figure’s shoulders
to the waist line, which are often described as “arms”, but could also be interpreted
as metal pins with plain shaft, or toggle pins with eyelets in the shafts, similar to
those found in Cypriote rock-cut chamber tombs throughout the Early and Middle
Bronze Age. Since those pins often occur in pairs, it has been suggested that they
were used to hold the garment in place. These motifs find their parallels in the Near
Eastern tudittu in the form of ornamental toggle-pins with a hole through which a
material was threaded through. Variants include two or three headed plank figures
(cat. 35) as well as figures holding infants in cradles (kourotrophoi) and freestanding
cradled infant figures.

128 129
The majority of the plank-shaped figurines were found in funerary contexts; the least to us – to engender them. Necklaces and other forms of jewellery, for example,
unprovenanced figures are also undoubtedly from tombs. Some fragmentary exam- according to the archaeological evidence, do not indicate an exclusive association
ples have been recovered in settlement deposits at Marki, Alambra and Politiko and a with either sex, but more probably linked to the portraying of social status.
complete one was excavated in the doorway of a pottery workshop at Ambelikou. The A closer look at the burial assemblages of Lapithos Vrysi tou Barba offers valu-
distribution of provenance Red Polished plank-shapes shows a large concentration able insightful information: the contextual evidence of the tombs suggests that the
on the north coast and in the centre of the island. The excavations at Lapithos Vrysi Red Polished plank-shaped figurines were associated with mortuary ritual activity.
tou Barba necropolis revealed the largest number of these figures and provided the
Although there is a lack of evidence that suggests they were exclusively created
full range of anthropomorphic types. This suggests that Lapithos was the production and intended for use in funerary practices. A ritual activity is also observed on the
centre. Lapithos was an important site of the Early and Middle Bronze Age and was terracotta model from Bellapais – Vounous: a circular enclosure with a number of
clearly dominant on the north coast with regards to the distribution and export of human figures apparently engaged in ritual activities, two pens with cattle and bulls’
copper. The other find spots – apart from Bellapais-Vounous – are sites like Deneia skulls mounted on the walls of the enclosure. Similar ritual activities are depicted on
and Nicosia-Ayia Paraskevi, with which Lapithos had close contact; villages close to two important finds from recent excavations of the Department of Antiquities at the
copper mines such as Marki, Alambra, Politiko and Ambelikou were all within Lapi- necropolis of Agia Paraskevi in Nicosia. Particularly, model 2 from tomb 50 depicts
thos’s copper procurement network range. It is noteworthy that the plank-shaped a plank-shaped figurine, as the cult idol (Kultbild) offers evidence and confirms the
figures from Lapithos were found in large tombs, associated with metal objects, such involvement of the plank-shaped figurines in the ritual procedure.
as pins, rings, knives, daggers and axes and sometimes accompanied with precious Although, it is not easy to say, who or what these plank-shaped figurines rep-
objects made of gold, silver and faience materials. resent, the fact that they appeared in the northern part of the island at a time of
The identity and function of the Red Polished plank-shaped figurines have been significant social change, associated with the wealth followed by the expansion of
much debated with suggestions ranging among others from representations of a fer- copper production and long-distance trade, cannot be ignored. The elaborate tombs,
tility goddess to individual women and men or from ancestors to symbols of fertility, the imported goods and metal objects deposited as burial gifts, along with the mor-
group identity, social status or gender. It is obvious that their interpretation is not tuary rituals, may suggest that a social group used these plank-shaped figurines as
an easy straightforward task. The absence of any clear gender-oriented features on symbols of their identity and social status.
the figurines themselves, as it is apparent from the Chalcolithic Period, since they With the transition to the Late Bronze Age, this type of plank-shaped figurine, which
are not naked, apart from some figurines that bear breasts, cannot easily support continued its existence with increasing naturalism, was replaced by a female, nude
an interpretation connected to fertility. Additionally, there are no obvious codes – at type with modelled breasts and accentuated genitals, thus emerging as an amalgam
2 of the much older type dating back to the Chalcolithic period and the new concepts
1 Model of infant in cradle
Model of cult place with celebrants in
that reached the island at that time from the Levant.
an enclosure Ca. 2000–1600 BC Z-K.E.
Vounous-Bellapais, Cyprus Red polished terracotta
Late III millennium BC
Red polished terracotta
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,

Archaeological sites mentioned in the text, such as Bibliography: Dikaios 1940, pls. VII, VIII; Campo 1994,
Bellapais – Vounous, Lapithos Vrysi tou Barba and Am- p. 145; Talalay, Cullen 2002, pp. 181–195; Keswani
Following pages belikou – are in areas that are not currently under the 2004, p. 140; Knapp 2013, pp. 337–344; Mina 2016,
Air view of the excavations effective control of the government of the Republic pp. 63–70; Webb 2016, pp. 241–254; Georgiou 2017,
at Khirokitia, Southeast Cyprus of Cyprus. p. 84, figs. 13, 15, 16, 20γ; Webb 2017, pp. 5–21.

130 131
132 133

Female figure

Cyprus, Kissonerga-Mylouthkia Y
Chalcolithic period (IV millennium BC)
Picrolite, H. 6.5 cm
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
Nicosia, inv. Kiss Myl 106

Bibliography: Peltenburg 2003, pp.

170–171, 173, pl. 13.7, fig. 61.6.

This anthropomorphic figurine has

been carved out of pale green
picrolite with olive green mottling.
It was found in a pit at the multi-
period coastal site of Kissonerga-
Mylouthkia in the Paphos District.
The figurine presents the standard
posture of flexed and tucked up legs
and outstretched arms, suggesting
a birthing posture. The arms
however are truncated and have
been reworked, possibly following
24 27), while others, like this figurine from notion that people were made up of human representations and especially damage. The head is triangular and
Floor III of House 5 at the Neolithic both male and female elements and facial features do not appear frequently tilted backwards and the figure’s facial
settlement of Sotira-Teppes, have a therefore it could be understood as in the Neolithic period in Cyprus. features are indicated schematically
schematic figure
more accentuated phallic character, an attempt to bridge the differences When they are present, they are with two horizontal incisions for the
Cyprus, Sotira-Teppes although the vulvic is also suggested. between the two genders. highly schematic and abstract, lacking eyes and a ridge around the back of
Late Neolithic period (V–IV millennia This figurine has thus been described A.E. decorative elements, although some the head, which could be indicating
BC) as dimorphic, representing both penis have a characteristic expressiveness. hair or a headdress. Picrolite, which
Limestone, H. 16.5 cm and vulva. In whichever way these 25 This is a rare example of a Neolithic is local to Cyprus and is found in
Department of Antiquities Cyprus, objects may be viewed, the tendency figurine with facial features (eyes, the Troodos range (in particular the
Anthropomorphic disk head
Nicosia, inv. 106 to express ambiguous and vague eyebrows and nose) depicted in relief. Kouris and Dhiarizos river valleys),
meanings to the body is obvious. This Cyprus, Khirokitia-Vouni Its disc-shaped head, tilted backwards, is considered to be the hallmark
Bibliography: Dikaios 1961, pp. 201-
sexual ambiguity can be seen through Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (VII–VI recalls later Chalcolithic birthing material of the Chalcolithic period in
202, pls. 91.106, 102.106; Buchholz
the combination of male and female millennia BC) figurines. The absence of the mouth, Cyprus. Its intensified exploitation and
& Karageorghis 1973, p. 160, 465,
genitals, through the dual “reading” Andesite, H. 11 cm as is the case with this piece, is a rather distribution suggests that exchange
no. 1695; Bolger 2003, p. 85, fig. 4.1;
of a figurine as male or female, Department of Antiquities Cyprus, common feature among prehistoric networks between Chalcolithic
Knapp 2013, p. 183, 240, fig. 47.
or through the silencing of some Nicosia, inv. Khirok 1404 figurines. It could be that pigments settlements existed. Furthermore, a
The figurine repertoire of Neolithic anatomical traits and the accentuation (e.g. ochre) were used to depict facial link has been suggested (Peltenburg
Bibliography: Dikaios 1953, p. 391,
and Chalcolithic Cyprus includes of others. Sexual ambiguity may features and decoration on stone 1982) between the development
pl. XCV, iv, CXLIII, iv; Buchholz &
a number of works that express a indicate that prehistoric societies figurines at this time. of early metallurgy during the
Karageorghis 1973, pp. 160, 465, no.
characteristic ambiguity in terms were organised on the basis of more A.E. Chalcolithic and the intensification of
of gender and symbolism. Some than two genders, or that there was picrolite, since in many cases copper
of these combine both vulvic and flexibility for individuals to cross from Stone sculpture has a long tradition in ore sources lie close to picrolite
phallic features, such as the famous one gender category to another. prehistoric Cyprus and demonstrates seams.
Chalcolithic “Lemba Lady” (see cat. Perhaps this ambiguity expressed the high levels of workmanship. However, A.E.

134 135

The “Lemba Lady”

Cyprus, Lemba-Lakkous 28
Chalcolithic period
Cruciform figure
(IV millennium BC)
Limestone, H. 36 cm Cyprus, Souskiou-Vathyrkakas Tomb
Department of Antiquities Cyprus, 85 /1
Nicosia, inv. LL 54 Chalcolithic period
(IV millennium BC)
Bibliography: Peltenburg 1977;
Picrolite, H. 12.5 cm
Peltenburg 1985, p. 281, frontispiece
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
pl. 45.1, fig. 81; Vagnetti 1991, pp.
Nicosia, inv. SK 97 (270) (SVP 85/1)
144–147, fig. 10; Knapp & Meskell,
1997, pp. 194–195, fig. 5; Bolger Bibliography: Peltenburg 2006, pp.
2003, fig. 4,4; Karageorghis (J.), 87–88, 98, 220, pl. B 5–6, pl. 27, 1;
Karageorghis (V.) 2006, p. 74, fig. 1. Knapp 2013, pp. 223–224, fig. 58.
The “Lemba Lady” was found in situ This well-polished and excellently
in a Middle Chalcolithic building at carved cruciform figurine was found
the settlement of Lemba –Lakkous in in a partly looted tomb at the
the Paphos district. At 36 cm in height, Chalcolithic necropolis of Souskiou-
it is the largest Chalcolithic figurine Vathyrkakas. It is made of high quality
found on Cyprus as yet. It has a fiddle- pale green picrolite with extensive
shaped form with arms outstretched olive and medium green mottling
in cruciform fashion. The limestone and veining. The figurine has an
sculpture is incised and modelled to elongated face, bearing no facial
emphasise the breasts, hips and pubic characteristics and the head is tilted
area. The belly is slightly swollen, backwards. The neck is long and
possibly indicating pregnancy. These straight and the arms are outstretched
female features are in contrast with the with their ends flat. The body widens
figure’s roughly phallic-shaped neck at the hips and the thighs project
and head, a characteristic that can be forward and slope downwards,
traced back to the Neolithic period. whereas the legs are separated by a
This sexual ambiguity and dualism deep division. This posture is typical
is characteristic of the Chalcolithic of Chalcolithic anthropomorphic
period and can also be seen on figurines on Cyprus and it is widely
picrolite anthropomorphic figurines. accepted that it represents a birthing
The Lemba figurine was found lying posture. At the necropolis site of
between large vessels in a building, Souskiou-Vathyrkakas, the majority of
which probably had a ritual and group tombs that included children
communal character. Given the contained anthropomorphic figurines
unusual nature of the context in as grave goods, whereas only a
which it was found, as well as the minority of exclusively adult burials
figure’s uniqueness in size and form, contained such objects (Peltenburg
the “Lemba Lady” is to date the only 2006, p. 163). It seems therefore, that
candidate for the representation of a there is a special association between
deity in pre-Bronze Age Cyprus. children and such anthropomorphs.
A.E. A.E.

136 137
29 Souskiou-Vathyrkakas (Goring 2006,
no. SVP 58/1, pp. 68–69, 81, pl. 17:3),
Cruciform figure
where it was found beneath the scull
Cyprus, Salamiou-Anephani of a sub-adult (Peltenburg 2006, p. 20).
Chalcolithic period A.E.
(IV millennium BC)
Picrolite, H. 10.5 cm 31
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
Cruciform figure
Nicosia, inv. 1059/XI-3/6
Cyprus, Kissonerga-Mosphilia
Bibliography: Karageorghis 1960,
Chalcolithic period
pp. 244-245, fig. 2; Buchholz,
(IV millennium BC)
Karageorghis 1973, pp. 160, 466.
Picrolite, H. 7 cm
no. 1700; Campo 1994, p. 189;
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
Karageorghis 2012, p. 41, no. 15.
Nicosia, inv. KM 1052
This picrolite figurine belongs to the
Bibliography: Peltenburg 1998, pp.
double anthropomorphic figurine
152–154, fig. 83, 9, pl. 32, 1; Goring
category. Instead of two arms there
1998, p. 181, KM 1052; Gamble,
is a second smaller figurine (its lower
Winckelmann, Fox 2016, pp. 4–5, fig.
body has been partly reconstructed),
arranged horizontally at the level of
the chest of the main figure. The two This picrolite cruciform figurine
faces bear similar facial features. As from Kissonerga-Mosphilia displays
is the case with many of the double polydactyly, a condition whereby
picrolite figurines, the vertical, larger an individual has extra fingers.
figure has breasts. Interpretations of The figure’s fingers are indicated
this imagery vary, including that it is an by incisions, five on one hand and
expression of maternity and continuity seven on the other. Considering
(e.g. mother and daughter) (Goring that on most Chalcolithic figurines
2006, p. 75) or an attempt to present the rendering of fingers and feet
sexual dualities by blending the sexual is not common, the depiction of
characteristics of males and females supernumerary digits on several
(Knapp 2013, p. 241). figurines and figurine fragments has
A.E. led researchers to the conclusion
that polydactyly was deliberately
30 represented and that it was a known
anomaly amongst the Chalcolithic
Cruciform figure
population (Gamble, Winckelmann,
Cyprus, Paphos district Fox 2016). Unfortunately, it is difficult
No provenance to detect the above condition in
Chalcolithic period osteoarchaeological records, due to
(IV millennium BC) the poor preservation of prehistoric
Picrolite, H. 9.5 cm human remains in Cyprus, as well as
Department of Antiquities Cyprus, the fact that, in many cases, burials
Nicosia, inv. W 290 contain the remains of multiple
individuals that are often comingled.
Bibliography: Buchholz, Karageorghis
Given that a possible function of
1973, pp. 160, 466, cat. 1701; Vagnetti
cruciform figurines and pendants was
1974, p. 30, pl. V.2; Vagnetti 1991, pp.
to bring good luck (they could have
147, 149, fig. 13; Flourentzos 1990, p.
acted as charms and talismans for
42, no. 31; Karageorghis 2012, p. 41,
fertility, labour and/or safe delivery), it
no. 14.
has been suggested that representing
This picrolite cruciform figurine is an extra digit on them would have
shown in the typical birthing position enhanced the good luck they brought.
of its type, with its arms outstretched A.E.
and its legs sharply drawn up at the
knees. It has a long neck and a flat,
wedge-shaped head. Its brow-line
and long nose are indicated with
incisions and its eyes are irregular and
bulbous. The hair is also represented
with incisions. The unusual feature
on this figurine are the two diagonal
latticed bands that adorn the arms
and the chest on the figure’s front and
back surface. An almost identical, but
provenanced example, comes from a
tomb at the Chalcolithic necropolis of

138 139

Cruciform figure Cyprus

Chalcolithic period
(IV millennium BC)
Picrolite, H. 9.4 cm, W. 6.5 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

Bibliography: Karageorghis 1998, pp.

62–63; Karageorghis (J.), Karageorghis
(V.), in Ligabue, Rossi-Osmida 2006,
p. 151.

A carefully balanced cruciform figure,

built in a composition centered on
the breasts, from where the long neck
and head soar; the legs are slit with
splayed feet and toes. The thighs are
marked on the front view by pending
adipose folds that join in the back to
form the buttocks, low and undivided.
The arms are unique in their pointed
shapes and grooved decoration. Note
the double necklace of circular beads.
The globular head, with well indicated
eyes, mouth and nose, gives a phallic
appearance to the whole silhouette, a
feature frequent in Chalcolithic figures
from Cyprus.

140 141
33 35

Clay plank-shaped figurine Clay two-necked

RED POLISHED plank-shaped figurine
Cyprus, Bellapais–Vounous
Early Bronze Age III (2100–2000 BC) Cyprus, Deneia, no provenance
Terracotta???OR CLAY, H. 28 cm Middle Bronze Age I (2000–1850 BC)
Department of Antiquities Cyprus, Terracotta???OR CLAY, H. 30 cm
Nicosia, inv. 1933/I-17/1 Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
Nicosia, inv. 1943/IV-13/4
Bibliography: Karageorghis 1991, pp.
59–60, 90, pl. xxv:2; Hadjisawas 2010, Bibliography: Karageorghis 1991,
p. 81, cat. 46 (G. Georgiou); Alphas & pp. 73–74, 91, pl. xl:1; Karageorghis
Zachariou-Kaila 2015, p. 126, cat. 83 1998, pp. 59–63, fig. 1; Hadjisawas
(M. Mina). 2010, p. 82, cat. 47 (G. Georgiou);
Karageorghis 2012, p. 49, no. 28.
A significant number of the plank-
Clay plank-shaped figurine shaped figurines are of the two-
RED POLISHED headed type. Usually, the two necks
of these figurines are connected
at the top. The figure presented
Early Bronze Age III (2100–2000 BC)
here has two tall necks and heads,
Terracotta???OR CLAY, H. 26.2 cm
independent from one another. The
Department of Antiquities Cyprus,
facial features of both heads, as well
Nicosia, inv. 1963/IV-20/12
as the incisions all over the face and
Bibliography: Karageorghis 1991, neck, are identical. They share a
pp. 59, 90, pl. xxv:1. rectangular body, which is very richly
adorned. The hair at the back is
The freestanding plank-shaped
shown by vertical zig-zag lines; there
figurines belong to the most enigmatic
also appears to be a “comb” motif
group of images in Cypriot prehistory,
hanging between the necks.
as their function and meaning are still
These two-headed figures have been
debated by scholars.
variously identified as depictions
They bear richly incised geometric
of sacred marriage or as a double-
patterns depicting facial features
faced Great Goddess or as “magical
(eyes and eyebrows, mouths, noses,
monsters”. Other interpretations
ears and hair). They are elaborately
associate them with devices used in
dressed, with garments fastened by
sympathetic magic for women wanting
what appear to be metal pins and
twins or triplets.
embellished with woven patterns, as
well as with jewellery (earrings and
necklaces) and tattooed markings
on their faces. They do not have a
base and may have been placed
upright through the use of some kind
of support or suspended (perhaps
through the “earholes”?). Although
each one is different, they generally
display a high degree of uniformity
and may thus have been made by
specialized craftsmen.
The plank-shaped figurines derive
principally from tombs of the
northern part of the island. They were
accompanied by metal goods, such
as spearheads, knives, axes, pins and
rings, as well as precious imported
items of gold, silver and faience.
A range of interpretations have been
suggested, most of which are based
on the assumption that plank-shaped
figurines are representations of
females. However, in some cases there
are no obvious sexual characteristics,
and the sex of the plank-shaped
figurines is not always clear.

142 143

144 145
Schematic Figures
from Anatolia

natolia had a long tradition of depicting human figures: if the monumental
stone building of the tenth millennium recently discovered at Gobekli tepe
was sculpted with images of wild animals only, in the Neolithic instal-
lations of Haçilar and Catal Hüyük dated to the seventh to fifth millennia, narra-
tive paintings and three-dimensional figurines associate a dominant steatopygous
“Lady”, and a few male figures, with felines and birds of prey. By the end of the
fourth millennium, as in the most of the Near East and the Mediterranean, drastic
changes brought the emergence of new social landscapes. New visual perceptions
took the appearance of abstract shapes for the depiction of the traditional female
figure. Schematic types appeared all over Anatolia and were distributed from the
littoral to the hinterland, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of each
type. The chronological evolution is equally uneasy to follow during the course of
the third millennium (cat. 38). Types are conventionally designated by the name of
the site where they have been first discovered or published. Several cultural areas
Kilia figure may be recognized: the littoral had close contacts with the eastern islands of the
Western Anatolia Mediterranean and the Cyclades; the Troy, Beycesultan and Kusura types were
Chalcolithic – Early Bronze Age distributed in Western Anatolia; in the hinterland and Cappadocia, the Kültepe
(3300–3000 BC)
Private Collection, UK
(courtesy RWAA)
(cat. 39, detail)

Anthropomorphic figurine
Kocumbeli – Ankara
III millennium BC
METU Archaeological Museum of

146 147
2 disk-shaped idols emerged at the end of the third millennium; Eastern Anatolia
Neolithic cultic place with relief wall
was in relation with Northern Syria, through the upper valley of the Euphrates,
decorations, Göbeklitepe, Sanliurfa,
Southeast Turkey, X millennium BC probably where the “Eye Idols” originated (ca. 3300 BC) before migrating through
Mesopotamia and Western Iran.
Stone figures were part of a larger production of anthropomorphic images, next to
numerous terracotta and a few rare metal figures, and should be considered in that
context. Different materials may have been assigned to different forms, within similar
abstraction processes: taking for instance, the body abbreviated in a semi-circular
disk, there were variations between the metal pieces (as in the Alaça Hüyuk “twin”
idols) and the clay ones (as in Koçumbeli-Ankara). Another variation is found in the
formal interplay between the head and the body: both parts are often rendered in a
similar shape, disk-like or semi-circular, but inverted and in different proportions and
respective size. In the stone figures, generally left with a plain surface, the play on
respective proportions of the different parts of the body is important in the balance
and rhythm of the figure; in the clay pieces, engraved details are often repeated on
the head and the body, but upside down, in a mirror image and what is the right
way up is left ambiguous.
Most Anatolian schematic figures are ambiguous as to their sex; even the obvi-
ously sexed females may be bisexual and present phallic elements, a phenomenon
observed also in Cyprus. Repair and breakage patterns suggest that the figurines
were handled, displayed and discarded and that they had a “life” and social status
before they were deposited, in public or domestic contexts.

Following pages
Excavations at Kültepe, Kayeri,
Cappadocia, Turkey, Bibliography: Thimme 1977; Sharp-Jokowsky 1996;
late III–II millennia BC Takaoğlu 2005; Duru 2008; Atakuman 2017.

148 149

150 151

Violin figure

Beycesultan type
Western Anatolia
Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age
(3300–3000 BC)
36 37
Marble, H. 16 cm, W. 7 cm
Abstract schematic figure Abstract schematic figure Ligabue Collection, Venice

Kusura type Kusura Beycesultan type Bibliography: Ligabue, Rossi-Osmida

Western Anatolia Western Anatolia 2006, p. 119.
Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age
A typical and harmonious example of
(3300–3000 BC) (3300–3000 BC)
the Beycesultan type, characterized by
Marble or calcite, H. 20 cm, W. 14 cm Marble or calcite, H. 11 cm, W. 7.2 cm
the long stalk neck and two shortened
Private Collection, Germany Private Collection, Germany
horizontal arms. The “bag-shaped”
body is a feature shared with the
This dynamic abstract composition, The composition assembles simple
Kusura type. In all these examples,
carved from a thin translucent geometric shapes, disk and half disc
the two sides of the plaque figure are
plaque, is constructed with a disc and divided by a cone constructed with an
identical, as opposed to other types
two rectangles – one vertical, one attention to rhythm and proportions.
like, for instance, the Alaça Hüyük,
horizontal – finely proportioned to It is subtly animated and brought
Troy or Kilia, which are oriented: they
each other, in a simplified vision of a to life by the diminutive arms that
have a back and a front side animated
head, neck and body. Both sides are conclude the semi-lunar body, and
by eyes, nose and mouth, possibly by
plain, but a small circle incised off the suggestions of hair or horn on
breasts and sex triangle. The question
centre on one side of the body may one side of the disk head breaks the
of the orientation of the schematic
be a mark added in the course of the symmetry.
figures is important for a better
“life” of the figure before deposition. C.A.
understanding of how they functioned
Reference: Thimme 1977, no. 513. and were handled during their life.
Reference: Thimme 1977, no. 488. C.A.

152 153

Kilia figure

Western Anatolia
Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age
(3300–3000 BC)
Marble, H. 10.3 cm, W. 3.7 cm
Private Collection, UK
(courtesy RWAA)

Named from a site in the Gallipoli

peninsula, the Kilia figures (cat. 39–41)
were distributed over a large part
of western Anatolia during the third
millennium. Recent research at
Kulaksizlar brought to light the close
relation with the Cyclades in the
production of marble vessels and
anthropomorphic statuettes by highly
skilled and specialized artists. The
Kilia are the only Anatolian figures
of the Chalcolithic Early Bronze Age
I to be distinctly anthropomorphic
and female, tending to an idealized
but realist vision, as opposed to the
abstract schematic aesthetic of the
Kusura or Beycesultan types. Like
these hematic figures however they
were found, often in fragments, in
both funerary context and in public
Kilia artists created slim figures with
sharp contrast between the flat body,
contoured in a lozenge, and the often
heavy, three-dimensional head, tilted
backwards, hence the description
of “star gazer”. The joint feet are
protruding from the plane of the body
and are too small to allow the figure
to stand by itself. Like the Cyclades
figures, they were probably meant to
be reclining on their back. The arms
are typically reduced to a sort of
triangular wing, sharply cut away from
the torso. Within this general type, 40
there are many subtle variants, the
Kilia figure
work of individual artists who were
free to play with the proportions and Western Anatolia
a number of small details, like the Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age
length of the nose, the placement (3300–3000 BC)
of minute button-like ears and eyes; Marble, H. 14.5 cm, W. 6.14 cm
in a few instances, realistic forearms Private Collection, Germany
are depicted along the torso. These
figures present fragile parts, especially
the high and thin neck, too thin for
the heavy head; and the tiny feet Kilia figure
projecting forward. These fragile parts
Western Anatolia
are very often found broken, whether
Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age
deliberately or not is unclear; the three
(3300–3000 BC)
exquisite Kilia statuettes presented
Marble, H. 14 cm
here are all missing their feet.
Private Collection, UK
(courtesy RWAA)
References: Thimme 1977; Takaoğlu 2005.

154 155
42 elongated neck ends in an arrow- where male genitals would be. This
shaped head, enlivened by large results in a complex combination, a
Disk idol
circular eyes, as in the smaller figure pregnant, androgynous and ithyphallic
Kültepe type here. Exceptionally, a globular head symbol, to be compared, for example,
Anatolia, Cappadocia is modelled with realistic facial traits, with the phallic female idols from
Early Bronze Age III (ca. 2300–2000 BC) mouth, ears and nose, the protruding Chalcolithic Cyprus. The emphasis
Gypsum alabaster, H. 26.3 cm, eyes retaining the fixed gaze of on the eyes is also a recurrent factor,
W. 15.5 cm the former type. The Ligabue idol encountered in Anatolia and Syria
Ligabue Collection, Venice combines both styles. The disk bodies Mesopotamia.
are finely decorated with rows of C.A.
Bibliography: Ligabue, Rossi-Osmida
drilled circles and bands in relief. The
2006, pp. 120–121. References: Özgüc 1993; Shoki Goodarzi in
lower part of the main figure is now Aruz, Wallenfels 2003, no. 180; Öztürk, 2013.
This is a good example of disk-shaped broken but would probably show a
figures from Cappadocia at the end sexual triangle, which is preserved on
of the third millennium. At the site of the smaller disk, giving it a feminine,
Kültepe, these figures were deposited “mother and child” or pregnancy
in cultic buildings. Some of them character. This reading is deceptive,
are double, with two necks on one however: the overall contour of the
body; others, like this one, present a disk-idols is distinctly phallic; this is
smaller, similar disk-figure, enclosed especially evident here in the small
on their own body. In most cases, the secondary figure, which is placed

156 157

158 159
Egypt, A World Apart

gypt had its own original approach to the development of complex society in
the construction of the state-controlled Pharaonic civilization. Visual media
played a major role in this construction, notably via the depiction of human
figures over the longue durée. Anthropomorphic figures of the predynastic period
appeared on large variety of forms and media, clay, stone and ivory figures, painted
vessels, “tag” figurines, combs, stone palettes and mural paintings in tombs.
In the course of the Badari period (ca. 4400–3700 BC), an enduring tradition began
with three-dimensional nude female figures in realistic fashion. Decorated clay ves-
sels of the period, using a white pigment over a dark brown-red background, depicted
groups of human figures interacting with animals, dominated by one individual of
indeterminate sex, his raised arms in a harmonious circle. By the Naqada II period
(3450–3300 BC), the raised arms motif appears on the numerous decorated vessels
of the new style, painted dark red on a buff background, centred around Abydos.
Standing female figure
with crossed arms The motif is also present on a few, rare clay figures, generally female: two of these
are presented in the show.
Egypt, Hierakonpolis, “Main Deposit”,
Temple enclosure These clay figures with raised arms are executed in abbreviated style, one of
Naqada II – Early Dynastic period the two major visual approaches followed by the Naqada II artists when creating
(3300–3000 BC)
anthropomorphic figurines, in clay or ivory. The realistic style prolongs the tradition
Ashmolean Museum of Art and
Archaeology – University of Oxford, emerged in the previous period, with numerous male figures in clay, standing on
gift Harold Jones (head) AN 1896-1908 two differentiated legs, their conspicuous genitals either ithyphallic or maintained
E1057-1057 A
in a sheath. In the abbreviated style statuettes, the legs are joined into one pointed
(cat. 45, detail)
element, the lower body is shaped as a long peg, which may have served to plant
the figure in sand or dirt, an indication of how they may have been used. When the
pigments are well preserved, the choice of colours seems to answer to specific rules,
such as the flesh being painted dark red: the red colour would be distinctive of the
male figures in wall paintings in tombs, from the Old Kingdom onwards. Body dec-
oration and tattoos are also detailed.
Interaction between humans and animals is characteristic of the tomb paintings of
the Nagada II period, the forerunners of the painted tombs of historical Egypt. Tomb
100 at Hierakonpolis was covered with images of humans attempting to control the
creatures of Nature on land and water, an interpretation comforted by the abundant
animal burials at the necropolis of Hierakonpolis.
Graywack stone and ivory were used for a number of artefacts displaying all the
characteristics of the Naqada II artists, in both realistic and abbreviated style. The

160 161
delightful “tag” figurines in stone and ivory are conspicuous for their round eyes As they are not found solely in wealthy graves, they had in themselves no special
carved in a triangular face over a simplified body. Ivory was a major medium for association to elite social status, power or authority. They were clearly important to
predynastic artists, a material generally taken from the tusks of local hippopotamus, the surviving individuals who arranged the burial and placed the artefacts with care.
an awesome creature of the Nile who played a major role in Egyptian iconography In the Naqada III (3300–3000 BC) period, an entirely new narrative style, mixed
at all times. In exceptional cases, the ivory was from elephant tusks, imported from with fantastic elements, appeared on new types of artefacts, the monumental stone
Africa via the upper Nile. Control of the routes to and from Africa was to be a con- palettes, and the ivory knife handles. The themes of dominance and conflict are in
stant concern of Egyptian rulers in the future. Ivory was used to carve a variety of evidence on famous artefacts, like the Battlefield palette (Graywacke stone, British
artefacts and anthropomorphic figures, nude females, ithyphallic statuettes, combs Museum) where vanquished enemies, carefully depicted with the mark of their ethnic
topped by a human “ghost” silhouette with large eyes, “tusks” figures. These, carved origin, are trampled by the royal lion, their cadaver left to be devoured by vultures. On
from either elephant ivory or the straight hippopotamus incisor, were crafted and the Gebel el-Arak ivory handle (Louvre), foreign conquerors come in high sea boats
transformed a minima, leaving the natural shape almost untouched, apart from the and overrule the reed-craft used on the Nile. The fantastic elements are apparent
drilling of a large pair of eyes, beard and headdress, and leaving out the rest of the in the elongated body parts of some animals, used as a decorative pattern to give
body. These tusks-figures are contemporaries with the eye idols of Western Asia and them a heraldic force (The Two Dogs palette, Oxford), a visual device familiar to the
Iberia, a reminder of the quasi-universal fascination of the eye symbol. Unfortunately, Mesopotamian seal carvers.
international regulations on the circulation of ivory made it impossible to secure the 2 By this time, the state-controlled organization that was to become Pharaonic civili-
loan of ivory pieces. A ship on the Nile and desert life zation was well in construction. The broadening of the social and economic network
Predynastic Egyp
Carefully deposited and placed in the graves, the Naqada II anthropomorphic Ca. 3450–3300???
encouraged ties with the Levant and Mesopotamia. By 2900 BC, the extent of the
objects had a specific relation with the dead. The clay figurines were placed close Painted pottery jar far-reaching network of exchange and contacts between Egypt and Asia is illustrated
to the body in a personal connection with the deceased. They are found broken Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, by the exquisite nude statuette from Hierakonpolis: it is carved in lapis lazuli, a stone
up, or fragmented in the grave, more than any other type of object, perhaps a sign imported from Afghanistan.
of deliberate breakage of a personal object, with pieces distributed for the sake of It is unclear whether the anthropomorphic objects depicted in predynastic Egyptian
memory. Other items like the tusks, tags and combs, part of the numerous ivory ob- art are “real” human beings or represent supra humans, endowed with shamanic
jects deposited in graves, were laid out along the arm or tied together with leather powers. The raised arms, often interpreted as a dance movement, is argued by
straps. There is no clear association between these objects and luxury or rare items. some scholars as a show of power and dominance, a forerunner to the later royal
iconography of triumphant pharaohs of the dynastic ages, an iconography already
evident in the last phases of the predynastic period and the narrative scenes on the
palettes. The interpretation of the female terracottas, however, remains open. What
Figures raising their arms
in dance or triumph is certain is the aesthetic concern and artistic achievement and appeal that ruled
Predynastic Egypt the creation of these dynamic and endearing images.
Ca. 3700–3450 BC
Painted pottery jar
Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire,

Following pages Bibliography: Ucko 1968; Patch 2011; Stevenson

The Nile near Aswan, Southern Egypt 2017; Ordynat 2018.

162 163
164 165
43 et d’Histoire in Brussels, in prehistoric hence referred to as “bird women”. female fertility idols, concubines for
Egypt, which was manifested already Both arms, raised above the head, the deceased, dancers, celebrants,
Female figure with raised
in his pioneering and much acclaimed end in hands turned in towards the wailing women and representations
1904 monograph Débuts de l’art head, with fingers separately modelled of the ka or life force. However,
Egypt, no provenance en Égypte (translated in English in (insofar as the reconstruction of the most of these interpretations
Naqada II period (ca. 3450–3300 BC) 1905 as Primitive Art in Egypt). As left arm is more or less correct). The reason backwards in time from later,
Painted baked clay, H. 23.7 cm, the figurine is unprovenanced and its breasts are large and pendulous, Pharaonic iconography. The fact that
W. 15.1 cm archaeological context unknown, its the stomach protruding, the hips figurines of this type do not aim at
Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, age is uncertain. It is, however, likely wide and the buttocks, divided by imitating human reality, but combine
Brussels, inv. E.3006 that it originates in the late Naqada an incision, firmly pronounced. The human features with avian (the head)
I or early Naqada II period (ca. 3450– legs, also delineated by a central and bovine (the posture of the arms)
Bibliography: Hornemann 1966, pl.
3300 BC). groove on the front and the back, elements, makes them an integrant
914; Ucko 1968, p. 161, pl. XXXVI; De
The figurine, originally incomplete, are vertically extended. The feet are part of predynastic iconography,
Roy, Rammant-Peeters 1985, pp. 4–5;
was provided with a substitute left rudimentarily modelled and flexed which evidently had its own specific
Hendrickx 1994, pp. 26–27.
arm, undoubtedly modelled on the upwards. No trace of any original visual language, supposedly referring
This charming predynastic female basis of the intact right arm. The colour survives. primarily to aspects of power and
figurine was acquired by Jean Capart whole restoration was executed in a Few examples of such figurines control over chaos. Their exact
(1877–1947) in 1909 from Muhammad rather awkward way, and it is highly have actually been recovered from function remains unknown, but it is
Mohassib (1843–1928), a well-known likely that, originally, the posture of controlled excavations. Even though likely that they were used within ritual
Egyptian antiquities dealer in Luxor, the arms was much more symmetrical. some have been found in habitation practice, either communal or personal.
together with three other, less well The upper part of the body tilts sites, such as Mahasna and Zawaydah H.D.
preserved anthropomorphic figures slightly forward and the back is (Naqada), it is highly likely that the
References: Patch 2011; Bierbrier 2012, pp.
(E.3005, E.3007 and E.3008). It testifies markedly arched. The head of the majority come from tombs. Much 376–377; Hendrickx & Eyckerman 2012;
to the great interest of Jean Capart, figurine is provided with a downwardly has been written on their possible Stevenson 2017; Ordynat 2018.
the then curator of the Egyptian curved beaklike protuberance, like significance. They have been variously
collection of the Musées Royaux d’Art several others figures of the period, interpreted as mother goddesses,

166 167
44 Egyptian sites. into question. Regardless, since not
Therefore, it seems that this piece all the Naqada II period burials have
Female figure
does belong to that lot, although yielded one or more statuettes of this
Egypt, Hierakonpolis (Kôm el-Akhmar) there is still some room for doubt type, it is possible that they served
or Ma’amariya (Northern Egypt) (?) given the lack of precision in the primarily to identify certain individuals
Naqada II period (ca. 3450–3300 BC) inventory description. The delayed within a complex social and ritual
Painted baked clay, H. 18 cm registration makes it impossible to system, much of whose organization
Musée d’Archéologie nationale even know whether the figurine comes and meaning continues to escape us.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, inv. 77.740.C from Jacques or Henri de Morgan’s L.C.
(Jacques or Henri de Morgan collection. The two archaeologists
References: Morgan 1896; Petrie 1920, p. 8
Collection) explored the region of Hierakonpolis and plate IV, nos. 3, 6; Ucko, Hodges 1963,
several decades apart. Unfortunately, no. 26, pp. 205–222; Relke 2011, no. 41, pp.
Bibliography: Ucko 1968, p. 105,
Jacques makes no mention of any 396–426.
no. 83; Archéologie comparée 1982,
discovery of this type in his 1896 work,
p. 129.
and a comparison of the information in
This figurine belongs to one of the Henri’s excavation notes, conserved at
“canonical” types of predynastic the MAN, with the articles published
Egypt, which currently comprises at the end of the two explorations
almost 250 definitively identified carried out on behalf of the Brooklyn
examples. Made of three fragments Museum in 1906–1907 and 1907–1908
re-joined in ancient times, it has provides no definite data on the exact
a characteristic head with a bird- provenance of the figurine.
like profile. The slightly misaligned It is worth pointing out, however, that
breasts and the curvature are quite the notes report rather cryptically
accentuated while the legs are joined that the terrain of the zone of the
to form a sort of pivot, which could kjökkenmöddings (habitat) of Kôm
have served originally to keep the el Akhmar was in complete disarray,
statuette stable, stuck in the ground with an “enormous mass of rubble,
or attached to some kind of support. terracotta statuettes of animals,
This lower part of the body is poorly- cows . . . and vessels”, among which
defined and bears traces of a white may have been discovered various
engobe which some scholars believe fragments of our figurine. While it
is meant to suggest a “skirt”. The has been associated in some cases
orientation of the fracture line of the with figurines found in funerary
arms, broken under the shoulder in contexts in Ma’amariya during the
ancient times, indicates that the arms same explorations, nonetheless there
originally extended along the torso are several notable differences: the
or were slightly bent at the height arms are positioned differently; the
of the stomach or genitals, as some impasto is less fine and has stains due
examples published by W.M.F. Petrie to defective firing, and the overall
in 1920. On the other hand, it can be appearance is cruder. P. Ucko has
ruled out that the arms were raised suggested that a chemical analysis
above the head, as in the renowned of the white engobe in the lower
type of the “dancing figurine”. part makes it possible to group
Many questions arise when studying together figurines from Ma’amariya
this statuette, one of the prize objects sites and from Kôm el Akhmar, only
in the Morgan Collection at the Musée a few kilometres apart, thereby
d’Archéologie nationale (MAN). circumscribing a possible zone of
The massive quantity of archaeological provenance.
material donated to the museum by Although some recent works have
the brothers Henri and Jacques de re-proposed Ucko’s theories, the
Morgan in 1909–1910, the outbreak meaning of these figurines is still far
of WWI and, in 1927, the sudden from clear. They have been associated
death of Henri Hubert, director of with the figurative decorations of
the comparative archaeology room, vessels of the same period, sometimes
resulted in a substantial delay and bearing analogous stylized figures,
a vague entry on the figurine in whose raised arms have been
the museum inventory. In fact, only interpreted as representing dance
in 1939 were the “fragments of movements or invocations. Since
four glossy grey and red terracotta most of these figurines were found
female statuettes” included in a in tombs – although more recently
lot of objects whose provenance other fragments have been found in
was specifically identified as Kôm habitats such as ad Adaïma – it has
el-Akhmar (Hierakonpolis). After been theorized that they played a role
careful investigation, it became clear in accompanying the deceased to
that presently no other statuette the afterlife, or were actually divinities
or fragment in the collection can or “guardians of the dead”. These
be attributed to other predynastic theories, however, have been called

168 169
45 and gold flecks of calcite and pyrite
respectively), the head is of the
Standing female figure
rarer and “pure” deep blue variety.
with crossed arms
Whether this difference was by design
Egypt, Hierakonpolis, “Main Deposit”, or the result of damage requiring a
Temple enclosure replacement head is not clear. Some
Naqada II – Early Dynastic period have even suggested the body was
(ca. 3300–3000/2900 BC) made outside Egypt, perhaps in the
Lapis lazuli and wood, H. 8.9 cm region of the Persian Gulf, and the
The visitors of the Ashmolean Museum head added after its arrival in Egypt.
of Art and Archaeology – University of The figure’s face is dominated by
Oxford, Oxford AN1896–1908 E.1057 large eyes that are deeply recessed
(body; Egyptian Research Account for inlay with another material. Her
excavations conducted by Quibell arms are bent at the elbows with her
and Green, 1898) and E.1057a (head; hands clasped, right over left, across
University of Liverpool excavations the abdomen. Her nude body is quite
conducted by Garstang and Jones, summarily carved except for the pubic
1906) area, which is indicated by a series of
Ashmolean Museum of Art and small circular depressions. The legs,
Archaeology – University of Oxford, slightly bent at the knees, terminate in
gift Harold Jones (head) AN 1896-1908 a straight edge just above the ankles.
E1057-1057 A A drilled hole on the underside (now
obscured by the modern mount) may
Bibliography: Patch 2011, no. 172.
have served to fasten the figure to a
This remarkable little statuette is base, or to attach separately modelled
carved from beautiful blue lapis lazuli. feet. It has also been suggested that
Egypt’s closest known source for this the figurine was meant to be the
semi-precious stone is Badakhshan handle for a spoon.
in Afghanistan, a distance of some Debate still rages about the figurine’s
3,600 km, making it one of the most identity and origin. James Quibell
exotic and highly prized materials was the first to point out its “non-
used by the ancient Egyptians. In Egyptian” appearance, comparing it
dynastic times, the bodies of gods to the marble Cycladic figurines found
were described as being made of on the Greek Islands of the Aegean
“pure lapis lazuli” and this exquisite Sea dating to around 2500 BC.
stone therefore evoked the divine. Others have compared the pose to
It first became common in Egypt female figures from Iran dating to the
during the predynastic period when later second millennium BC, several
it was imported to create prestigious hundred years after the supposed
objects, particularly beads and inlays, date of the lapis lazuli statuette. The
included among the grave goods figure’s short, tightly curled hair as well
buried with members of the elite. The as the position of her arms and hands
statuette from Hiérakonpolis is the are unique among the statuettes from
largest piece of crafted lapis lazuli to the “Main Deposit” at Hiérakonpolis
have survived from this early time. (the majority carved in ivory) and find
The story of the statuette’s discovery few parallels in early Egyptian art.
is almost as remarkable as the object Several ivory and bone statuettes Standing nude male figure
itself. The body was discovered by originally in the collection of the
James Quibell during excavations Reverend William MacGregor depict
Old Kingdom (ca. 2500 BC)
at Hiérakonpolis (one of the most women with their hands crossed in a
Wood, H. 33 cm
significant archaeological sites for similar gesture, but questions surround
Private Collection, Paris
the formation of ancient Egyptian their authenticity. The same curled
civilisation) beneath a mud brick wall hairstyle seen, for example, on figures
By the IV–V dynasty, not only the
south of the so-called “Main Deposit”. decorating contemporary siltstone
pharaoh but also private people of
This large cache of discarded votive cosmetic palettes lends support to
high rank could build themselves
objects included some of the most the suggestion that the statuette was
a monumental tomb and funerary
iconic works of predynastic and early carved in Egypt. Whatever the case,
chapel. Statues in stone or wood
dynastic art that had been gathered the object – whether fully finished, or
depicted the deceased and his
together and ritually deposited within as a block of raw material – travelled a
household, as they were in their
the later temple enclosure. considerable distance before arriving
lifetime, and received offerings
A small wooden peg was preserved at ancient Hiérakonpolis and therefore
from the living. This nude, youthful
at the figure’s neck for the attachment provides valuable evidence of early
figure is probably an attendant or a
of the head, which incredibly was Egypt’s place in an increasingly
servant; the deceased would have
found eight years later, during interconnected world.
been wearing a linen kilt. The slender,
further excavations in the same area McN.L.
elegant body is typical of the aesthetic
conducted by Harold Jones. While
standard introduced by the Egyptian
the stone used for the body has
Old Kingdom, that is, idealized reality.
a mottled appearance (with white

170 171

172 173
Anthropomorphic Figures
from Prehistoric Arabia

he caravan kingdoms of Saba, which appeared in the first millennium BC,
have long been thought to mark the earliest civilizations of pre-Islamic Ara-
bia. However, the discoveries of statues and steles from archaeological sites
in the northwest in the area of Al-‘Ulà, in central Arabia at Ha’il, in the Hadramawt
at Rawk, set back the chronology to the fourth–third millennia. The exploration of
Eastern Arabia and the Gulf brought to light a local culture which thrived on the
maritime trade between the land of Sumer in Mesopotamia and the Indus at the time
of the Harappa civilization. Ancient sites at Al- Aïn, Umm an-Nar, on the islands of
Tarut and Bahrain yielded remains of monumental architecture and figurative arts,
notably on stamp seals.
At the end of the fourth millennium, across the whole of Arabia, late Neolithic soci-
eties underwent major changes, similar to those which were occurring in the Levant,
Egypt and Mesopotamia. The beginning of the Bronze Age increased communica-
tions with neighbouring regions, in answer to the growing needs of the metallurgic
industry and the demand for raw materials on the part of the emerging complex
Standing steatopygeous
figure societies of the Near East. Monumental architecture, cultic places and built tombs

Southwest Arabia
appeared in a number of sedentary centres throughout the peninsula. Petroglyphs
IV millennium BC were engraved by tradesmen and travellers along the caravan routes. Cultic centres
Private Collection, Paris associated with funerary precincts have yielded statues and steles of male figures.
(cat. 49, detail)
Female steatopygous statuettes are carved out of coloured stones. Although these
artistic forms originate from different regions separated by great distances, they show
a remarkable aesthetic unity which is a characteristic of prehistoric Arabia. Different
stones were used to carve these sculptures, reflecting on the geological diversity of
the land, from black basalt, originating in the volcanic regions of the west, to the
reddish limestone of the Hadramawt, the sandstone of the northwest, or the granite
pebbles from the crystalline substratum in the west.
The male statues are standing, their body is elongated, the legs are separated. Above
a strong neck, the head is small, the face is rendered as a flat mask applied to the
head; eyes and nose are delineated but not the mouth. They wear a belt and a baldric
across the chest. It is not clear if they were otherwise fully clothed, but this what was
probably intended as their genitals are never apparent. On the rock engravings, the
male figures are shown in action, hunting animals and displaying their weapons – bow,
spear and dagger – the crescent-shaped pommel of the dagger belongs to a well-known
type used over a large part of the Near East and Egypt during the third millennium

174 175
Distribution of anthropomorphic
figures from Arabia, IV–III millennia BC
(after Steimer-Herbert et al. 2007) Jor

Stele statue of male wearing a baldric <100 cm

Al-Ma’Akir – Qaryat al-Kaafa, Hail AL-’ULÂ

92 cm
(Southern Arabia)
IV millennium BC
Saudi Arabia
National Museum, Riyad

Standing female figure wearing 85 cm 57 cm 100 cm Yemen 0 500 km
a necklace
Southern Arabia
IV–III millennia BC
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
25 cm 31.7 cm 26.2 cm 21.5 cm 20.9 cm 17.5 cm
40.5 cm 24 cm 26 cm 31 cm 33 cm 27.5 cm

BC, an indication for the date of those rock engravings and the standing stone statues.
They are usually interpreted as funerary images or ancestor figures.
The female figures, on the contrary, are always naked and adhere to traditions
inherited from the Paleolithic-Neolithic eras. Their whole outline tends to be enclosed
in a simple geometric shape, ovoid or cubic, with shortened legs, enhanced buttocks
and belly, small head. What may look at first sight like a realistic rendering of an
obese woman is in fact the result of a careful construction of abstract volumes, based
on quadrangular or spherical modules assembled in well-balanced proportions. The
lower part of the statuettes from the Hadramawt is shaped as a cube, possibly indicat-
ing the figure is seated on a stool. The arms are crossed at the waist, in a static and
majestic attitude. As in the male statues, the face often appears like a mask applied
to the head, with a continuous eyebrow line. The female statuettes, never found in
context, are, expectedly, interpreted as fertility figures.
So far, there is no well documented association between the male and the female
figures. But stylistic details, such as the rendering of the flat mask-like face and the
continuous eyebrows, point to their belonging to the same horizon, and it may be
assumed that similar stones indicate a similar origin.
Dead warriors are shown with the majesty of divinized ancestors; childbear-
ing women appear in the abstract ideal of eternal womanhood. These images step
across the barriers that separate the human and the supra human worlds, Life and
Death. Considered together, as complementary and contrasting concepts, the male
and female images open a larger vista on the complex nature of pre-Islamic Arabia.
Following pages
Rock formation, Wadi Doan, Daw’an, Bibliography: Kirkbride 1969; Anati 1974; Steim-
Hadramaut, Southern Arabia er-Herbet et. al. 2007; Antonini de Maigret 2012.

176 177
178 179

Seated steatopygeous

Southwest Arabia
IV millennium BC
Reddish sandstone, H. 17.8 cm,
W. 14 cm
Private Collection, Paris

The colourful stone, the position of

the arms crossed under the breasts
and the rendering of the facial features
are typical of prehistoric figures
from Arabia. The seated position
is infrequent and the sculptor built
his composition in juxtaposed well-
balanced geometric volumes.

180 181

Standing steatopygeous

Southwest Arabia
IV millennium BC
Basalt, H. 22 cm
Private Collection, London, inv. 2131

The powerful, abstract geometric

composition of this monumental figure
makes it a masterpiece of the eternal
steatopygeous genre, across time and
space. The material, the rendering
of the eyebrows and the position of
the arms crossed under the breasts
indicate an attribution to prehistoric

182 183

Standing steatopygeous

Southwest Arabia
IV millennium BC
Marble, H. 15 cm, W. 8 cm
Private Collection, Paris

Typical of prehistoric Arabia by the

facial traits, the position of the arms
and the division of the body in several
carefully assembled volumes, the
globular head, the perfectly round
breasts, the curved belly and the orbs
of the thighs. The unusual mottled
white-grey marble adds softness to
the general contour.


Standing steatopygeous

Southwest Arabia
IV millennium BC
Red sandstone, H. 23.5 cm
Private Collection, Germany

This figure, more elongated and

firm bodied than the previous ones,
with small breasts, flat belly, smooth
buttocks and thighs, presents all the
characteristics of southwest Arabia
by the facial traits, position of the
arms, stump lower legs and taste for
colourful stone.

184 185

Standing male figure

Southern Arabia
IV millennium BC
Sandstone, H. 10 cm, W. 7 cm
Private Collection, Germany

This angular cut-out plaque figure

presents a square head above
a quadrangular body and two
separated cut-out and abbreviated
legs. Engraved are a number of
precise details: the hollowed eyes
and a straight horizontal line for the
mouth. Across the torso, the arms are
rendered as a double incised line,
ending in spread-out fingers. Straight
hairs and beard are engraved. In its
schematic rendition, this striking figure
announces the abstract idols of the
Nabatean period and is tentatively
attributed here to prehistoric Arabia.


Standing male figure

Southwestern Arabia
IV millennium BC
Black stone (basalt ?), H. 28.8 cm,
W. 9.8 cm
Private Collection, Switzerland

This standing warrior, perhaps a

dead ancestor figure, is armed with a
baldric across the torso and a belted
kilt. The strong arms crossed at the
waist give poise to the balanced
construction of the abstract volumes
of this figure, a fluid image, a contrast,
but a complementary view with the
preceding angular figure.

186 187

188 189
Eye Idols
in Western Asia

he “eye idols”, named after their enormous eyes, appeared at the end of the
fourth millennium and were distributed over a vast geographic space that
covers a large part of Western Asia: from Eastern Anatolia to Southwestern
Iran, along the foothills of the Zagros range that borders the east of Turkey, Syr-
ia and Iraq. Eye idols came to the attention of scholars when hundreds of these
small figurines surfaced at tell Brak on the Khabur valley, in a temple subsequently
called Eye Temple, excavated by a British expedition. Similar figures were found
in the upper valley of the Euphrates, in the region of Urfa; down the river at Mari;
in the upper valley of the Tigris, at tepe Gawra in the south at Tello; and at Susa,
an extension of the Mesopotamian lower plain in Southwest Iran. This geographic
distribution corresponds to the diffusion of the Uruk culture. Emerged around
3300–3200 BC in Southern Mesopotamia and named after the major city state of
Uruk, in the land of Sumer, this culture heralded the foundation of the first cities
and the invention of writing. The Uruk culture developed figurative art forms of
Spectacle idol, outstanding quality, characterized by a realistic approach to the rendering of the
rectangular body, human body: among the masterpieces are the “naked king-priests” (cat. n° 65-
high neck
66, see essay by E. Rova) or the famous head of the “Lady”, now in the Baghdad
Western Asia
Museum. In its expansion towards the north, the Uruk culture came into contact
3300–3000 BC
Private Collection, Paris with strong local traditions. The acculturation process allowed for interchange
(cat. 62, detail) and return influence. Thus, the concept of the highly schematized eye idols which
probably originates in Eastern Anatolia and Northern Syria, found its way to the
south, as evidenced from the examples excavated in Tello or Susa. Inversely, figu-
rative realist sculptures found in Syria, like the stone heads from the Eye Temple
of tell Brak, are probably a response to the artistic achievements of the Southern
Uruk culture, while retaining the oversized eyes. The schematic and the figurative
art forms seem to have coexisted.
Eye idols may be divided into two main groups, according to the shape of the
eyes. In the eye idol proper, the face is reduced to two eyes protruding from a neck
above a quadrangular body. The eyes are drawn in concentric circles or lozenges
and often outlined with black paint in bitumen. In the second group, the eyes are
set above the body in two protruding loops that look strangely like a pair of modern
spectacles or goggles; both groups are represented in the Eye Temple of tell Brak.
A significant difference between the two groups resides in the shape and size
of the body. The spectacle figures are sculpted in the round and are able to stand on

190 191
1 their own after deposition in place; the “eye” figures are made of thin, flat plaques,
Spectacle Idol
always so small they can be held in the hand. This points to a different interaction
No provenance (Levant/Syria?)
ca. 3300–3000 BC between the worshipper and the image. The eye images gaze upwards, towards
Red polished terracotta heaven. The standing spectacle figures look ahead, confronting the spectator, perhaps
Musée du Louvre, Paris
the worshipper, or standing forever in attendance to an immanent entity.
2 The eye idols proper present small variations as to the proportions of the body
Spectacle idol and miniatures
and the height of the neck. The majority are carved from gypsum alabaster, a stone
Tello, Southern Iraq
Ca. 3300–3000 BC found in the Zagros mountains, while a few are made of bone (cat. n° 55-56). Exam-
Terracotta, gypsum alabaster ples may have tiny feet and breasts, others wear an elaborate conical coiffure set
3 directly on top of the eyes. Double figures appear side by side, like Siamese twins or
Miniature Spectacle Idols in a mother and child arrangement, a small figure of identical contour being carved
Susa, Southwest Iran)
in relief on the body of the larger figure (cat. n° 54). This may be a forerunner of
Ca. 3300–3000 BC
Faïence the later idols from Kül tepe in Cappadocia, dated to the end of the third and early
Musée du Louvre, Paris second millennia (cat. n°53).
Unlike the eye idols, the spectacle type varies greatly in size, ranging from less
than 3 cm to up to 30 cm. The body may be globular with a squat convex profile,
topped by tiny loops for the eyes. Taller examples present a tapering or concave
profile, without a neck; the loops on top are cylindrical and thick. The range of ma-
terial is vast, using a manmade mix such as terracotta or faience, as in the examples
excavated in tell Brak and Susa; a majority are carved in gypsum alabaster, like the
eye idols proper; there are examples made of coloured stones and of shiny stones
like rock crystal (cat. n° 51) and obsidian, a natural glass originating from volcanic
regions in Eastern Turkey (cat. n° 60). Basalt, a volcanic stone from Northern Syria
(cat. n° 62), was used for large pieces. There are examples of multiple figures pos-
sessing two or more bodies, attached to each other by the flank like Siamese twins,
each with their double loops (cat. n° 57).
Spectacle idols have been interpreted as utilitarian artefacts in relation to the
textile industry, a hypothesis contradicted by the small size of some examples, which
would rend them unworkable, and the fragility of the material. The pieces that have
been scientifically excavated come from a cultic context, together with the eye idols
proper. Both types must have been a comparable means of expressing the super-
natural through highly schematic and stylized forms, while the contemporary Uruk
style sculptures are more narrative and realistic.

Following pages
Excavation at Uruk, Southern
Mesopotamia, the legendary city Bibliography: Mecquenem 1943; Mallowan 1947; To- Azara 2003; Margueron 2004; Caubet 2006; Cluzan,
of the hero Gilgamesh bler 1950; Caubet 1991; Breniquet 1996; Fortin 1999; Butterlin 2014.

192 193
194 195

Eye idol with inner

small idol

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Gypsum alabaster, H. 4.2 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

Bibliography: Ligabue, Rossi Osmida

2006, pp. 122–123.


Eye idol with inner

small idol

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Gypsum alabaster, black paint,
H. 6.6 cm, W. 4.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris

Eye idol

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Bone, black paint, H. 4.2 cm, W. 1.7 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice


Eye idol with pointed head

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Bone, H. 8 cm, W. 3.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Eye idol with two heads

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Gypsum alabaster, black paint,
H. 5 cm, W. 4 cm
Private Collection, Paris

196 197

Spectacle idol,
globular body

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Gypsum alabaster, H. 8 cm, W. 6 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Spectacle idol,
convex body

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Gypsum alabaster, H. 9 cm, W. 7.8 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice


Spectacle idol,
quadrangular body

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Obsidian, H. 7.2 cm, W. 5 cm
Private Collection, Germany


Spectacle idol,
high cylindrical body

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Rock crystal, H. 3 cm, W. 1.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Spectacle idol,
rectangular body,
high neck

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Basalt, H. 20 cm, W. 10
Private Collection, Paris


Spectacle idol
with concave body

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Grey limestone, H. 18 cm, W. 14 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Quadruple Spectacle idol

Western Asia
3300–3000 BC
Greenish stone (steatite?), H. 2 cm
Private Collection, Paris

198 199

he fourth millennium BC is a pivotal age in the history of human civilisation,
when a number of institutions which have been part of the way of life of
the Western world for the following millennia, some of which are still part,
in modified shapes, of our modern way of life, appeared for the first time. In fact,
it witnessed the emergence of the first urban centres and of complex political or-
ganisations (so-called proto-states) based on the concentration and redistribution
of agricultural products and on the control of manpower by a central authority.
These ancient city-states were ruled by a dynast (the “king”) and managed by
a hierarchy of officials by the help of complex procedures of accountancy and
control, the final outcome of which was the invention of writing at the end of the
millennium. Southern Mesopotamia is traditionally considered the cradle of these
innovations. They, however, did not occur in isolation, but in the framework of a
wide-ranging network of long-distance connections, which span from Egypt to the
whole of the Near East and, beyond this, possibly even to Central Asia and the
Eastern Mediterranean.
Standing nude “king-priest”
The city of Uruk (Warka) in Southern Iraq is the most impressive example of an
Southern Mesopotamia
Uruk period (ca. 3300–3200 BC)
early urban centre: by the end of the fourth millennium it reached a size of over 200
Musei Civici agli Eremitani – Museo hectares, and was the seat of a richly equipped ceremonial quarter of monumental
Archeologico, Padua buildings. From Uruk come, as well, the earliest written texts known so far. Uruk
(cat. 66, detail)
gave its name to a culture, which spread its influence over vast sectors of the Near
East, from Southeastern Turkey to Northern Syria, Northern Iraq and Western Iran,
possibly through the foundation of “colonies” located along the main communication
These radical changes in the social and political organisation were matched by
equally radical changes in the spiritual life of the Mesopotamian populations. By
means of what must have been a considerable intellectual and creative effort, a new
system of values was elaborated, which ideologically supported the hierarchical
order of the centrally administered city-states. This was expressed and propagated
through a system of visual symbols, some of which have come down to the present
day. Narrative art makes its first appearance, in the form of complex images carved
on stone stelae or around the surface of cylindrical objects: stone vessels (like the
famous “Warka vase”) (Fig. 1) and especially cylinder seals (miniature stone cylin-
ders used for rolling on wet clay in order to leave a mark indicating ownership of
or authority on sealed goods).

200 201
1 A male figure, who appears prominently in figurative arts of the Uruk period and
Monumental vase with cultic scenes
is conventionally known as “king-priest” (Fig. 3), is believed to represent the first
in relief
Uruk, Southern Iraq visual expression of the concept of Mesopotamian kingship. He is often depicted in
Ca. 3300 BC larger size in comparison with the other characters of the composition and wears a
Gypsum alabaster
special attire and headdress, or hairdo, which makes him easily recognisable. He is
National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad
(after Crüsemann, Van Ess, Hilgert,
generally bare-chested, but wears a long skirt with a thick belt at the waist. He has
Salje 2013, figs 9.1, 9.9) a long beard and wears on the head what has been variously interpreted as a cap
with a thick brim or a chignon held in place by a headband.
The figure is involved in various activities – heading processions to the temple
and taking part in different types of ceremonies, inspecting prisoners, aiming arrows
at both enemies and wild animals, feeding domestic animals, etc. (Fig. 4) – all of
which are later connected with the typical duties of the Mesopotamian king, who is
portrayed at the same time as a triumphant warrior, a pious worshipper of the gods
and a shepherd for his people. Even his physical features (massive, muscular body
structure, wide breast, strong arms, broad face and large eyes) appear to correspond
to those that, as demonstrated in a groundbreaking contribution by Irene Winter,
in later Mesopotamian texts and figurative arts symbolically represent the qualities
of the ideal heroic ruler. The name “king-priest” well represents the nature of the
Uruk ruler, who appears to be characterised by a stronger religious component in
comparison with later Mesopotamian kings, in the same way as public buildings of
the Uruk period in Southern Mesopotamia can be generally defined as religious, or
ceremonial, in character, whereas palaces, as known in the region since the first
Old conceptions of the divine take for the first time clearly anthropomorphic shapes half of the third millennium BC as the residence of the dynast and its court and
in this period. Different personalities of deities thus start to emerge, which will later be the seat of the central administration, appear to be missing to the present state of
organised in a proper pantheon. Especially important among these is a female figure, research.
Inanna – later identified with the semitic Ishtar – whose symbol (the ring-headed post) In a well-known scene, depicted on the top register of the Warka vase, but also
is found in the earliest written texts from Uruk. The famous stone mask known as the repeated on various contemporary cylinder seals, the “king-priest”, at the head of a
“Lady of Warka” (Fig. 2) is possibly a depiction of Inanna. As known from later sources, procession of gift-bringing figures, faces a female figure standing beside a couple of
Inanna/Ishtar has a complex and multifold personality, which probably derives from
synchretizing a number of originally independent local goddesses: she is at the same
Mask of the “Lady of Uruk”
time a goddess of love and sexual behaviour, a warlike goddess and an astral deity Uruk, Southern Iraq
(she represents the planet Venus, the morning and evening star). Ca. 3300–3000 BC
Gypsum alabaster
The concept of kingship, which lay at the core of the symbolic system of Mesopo-
National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad
tamian civilisation, was also elaborated in the Uruk period. “Kingship” expressed the (after Crüsemann, Van Ess, Hilgert,
special position of the ruler as representative of the human community in front of the Salje 2013, fig. 11.1)

gods. The main task of human society was believed to serve for the gods and to pro- 3
duce food for them, and the ruler was responsible for ensuring the correct operation “King-priest”
Uruk, Southern Iraq
of the society toward the gods, who in their turn would guarantee peace, fertility and
Ca. 3300–3000 BC
prosperity to the population. In later times, cuneiform sources often underscore the Gypsum alabaster, shell and bitumen
special relation between the king and a female goddess (in most cases Inanna/Ishtar), National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad
OR VAM Berlin????
who acts at the same time as the king’s patron in war, his lover and the mother of
(after Crüsemann, Van Ess, Hilgert,
the legitimate heir, and thus guarantees a rightful and smooth succession to power. Salje 2013, fig. 20.1)
The king is a human being, but his relation with the goddess reveals his superhuman
status, which in later times is often expressed by post-mortem divinisation.

202 203
4 replicas of the same figure, who shows the same features as the Uruk “king-priest”,
Cylinder seal and modern impression:
except for the fact that he is naked and lacks the typical skirt. Unfortunately, all of
cultic scene with “king-priest” and
attendant them are devoid of context, as they reached Europe after having been acquired, in
Uruk, Southern Iraq unclear circumstances, between the late 1850s and the early 1860s by different in-
Ca. 3300–3000 BC
dividuals who were based in the territory of present-day Iraq. It would be therefore
Shell and copper alloy (the bull figure)
National Museum of Iraq, Baghdad
vain to speculate too much about their original place(s) of discovery and their specific
OR British Museum???? function, and even on the intriguing possibility that they might have originally formed
(after Crüsemann, Van Ess, Hilgert, a group. Stylistic analysis and comparison with excavated materials led to exclude
Salje 2013, figs 20.5, 24.6, 24.1)
that they might be forgeries and suggested that they should date to the earlier phase
of the Late Uruk period (possibly around 3300–3200 BC).
Even though attributes of masculinity, such as a beard, a muscular body and so
forth are often emphasised in later representations of Mesopotamian kings, as bodily
perfection and male vigour were inextricably connected with concepts of dominance
and rulership, in later times these always wear the full insignia connected to their
role and are never portrayed naked. In Mesopotamian art, nudity tends to be reserved
for the following categories of figures: heroes of supernatural nature (“heroic nudi-
ty”); deceased persons, prisoners and dead enemies; worshippers and particularly
libators (“cultic” or “ritual nudity”). All of these possibilities have been considered
for the Paris, Zurich and Padua statuettes by earlier scholars, most of whom came
to the conclusion that they probably portrayed the “king-priest” performing a ritual
in cultic nudity. Alternatively, the figurines may portray dead rulers in heroic nudity,
similar to other superhuman figures and hybrid beings, which are often portrayed,
e.g. in a “master of animal” attitude, in contemporary glyptic and relief. Such hero-
icised ancestors of the ruling dynast would very appropriately represent the male
counterpart of the female goddess in this most ancient elaboration of the iconographic
expression of the ideology of Mesopotamian kingship.

symbols of Inanna, who receives the offers and is identified either with the goddess
herself or with her priestess. This scene is considered to represent a precursor of
the so-called “sacred marriage”, a ritual apparently taking place between a deified
human king and Inanna, seen as a symbolic counterpart to the mythical union be-
tween this and the god Dumuzi on the occasion of the New Year festival, whose aim
was to propitiate the fertility of crops and animals.
The couple formed by the heroic ruler and the goddess thus represents the core
of a new “iconography of power”, where the main characters are joined by a number
of recurring symbols (weapons, vanquished enemies, lions and other wild beasts,
rosettes, etc.). This new iconography obviously had a strong appeal on contemporary
societies which were on the way toward increasing social complexity, as it spread,
during the second half of the fourth millennium BC, over a vast geographical area
encompassing the whole of Greater Mesopotamia (Mesopotamia proper and the
neighbouring regions of Western Iran and Northern Syria) and even reaching Egypt.
Bibliography: Spycket 1981; Winter 1989, pp. 573– 478–483; Winkelmann 2003, pp. 567–678; Gambino,
The four stone statuettes from the Louvre and from the museums in Zurich and 583; Schmandt-Besserat 1993, pp. 201–219; Matthi- Rova 2005, pp. 6–53; Rova 2010, pp. 269–284; Crüse-
Padua, which are exhibited together for the first time in Venice, are almost exact ae 1994; Winter 1996, pp. 11–26; Wilhelm 2001, pp. mann, Van Ess, Hilgert, Salje 2013.

204 205
left thigh and the upper back of the years in this early Mesopotamian site in Paris, while the third belongs to Luckily, Fabris quotes integrally the
head; remains of painting on the back – has become a well-known motif in the Archäologische Sammlung of part of Zennaro’s letter where he
and on the rear portion of the hair; sculpture, reliefs and seals of the Uruk Zurich University. All of them have describes the acquisition of the gift.
auburn stains on the top of the head, period in the late fourth millennium no known context, although they According to other documents, in
the right and the left foot. BC. were presumably acquired in Iraq in Constantinople Zennaro had close
The figurine has been carved out of M.B. the mid-nineteenth century. Their relations with other European doctors,
a solid light-beige limestone block most precise excavated parallel is especially the founders of Société
which is still perceptible in the whole 66 the alabaster torso of the so-called Imperiale de Médecine – a renowned
disposition of the statue, primarily in “Kleiner König” found in a late medical organisation opened in
Standing nude “king-priest”
the block-like legs and feet, serving fourth millennium BC context at Uruk Constantinople around 1856 – that
as the statuette’s basement, but less, Southern Mesopotamia (present Warka in Southern Iraq), published a scientific journal: the
however, above the hips, where the Uruk period (ca. 3300–3200 BC) which differs from them only in the Gazette Médicale d’Orient. It appears
limbs are slender and elegant. The Limestone, H. 30 cm, W. 9.8 cm fact that he is not naked, but wears that Zennaro was a member of the
overall composition is symmetrical, Musei Civici agli Eremitani – Museo a smooth, heavy belted skirt. The Editorial Board of this journal, too,
oriented towards the vertical central Archeologico, Padua attire and hairstyle of the Uruk torso and therefore gained social relevance
line, but in the details there are allow it to be identified with the so- and consideration within the Italian
Bibliography: Gambino, Rova 2005,
some subtle deviations of this strict called “king-priest”, a figure that community and Turkish society as
fig. 1.
symmetry: the man is leaning slightly is often portrayed in the arts of the well. This undoubtedly allowed him to
to his right side, and, moreover, The figurine represents a standing Uruk period and is generally assumed meet other colleagues, both local and
the blocky aspect of the statuette male in frontal position, the arms to represent the city ruler. More foreign, and among these the figurine
is mitigated and vitalized by the tightly bent under the chest with generally, iconography and style of the finder, whose precise identity is still
bent knees. Thus, he gains quite an clenched fists separated by a narrow four statuettes find a large number of unknown. “D.r Henry, Bolognese”,
astonishing degree of vividness, even space. The legs are thick and squared; comparisons in the small plastic, relief quoting Fabris’s letter, should
more accentuated by his intensely they are separated, on the front as well and glyptic arts of the Middle/Late have “found and picked up [the
gazing eyes. as on the back, only by an incised line; Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods (ca. statuette] from the ruins of Nineveh”
The surfaces are mostly rendered the feet are massive and unrealistically 3500–2900 BC) from Mesopotamia. and then gifted it to Zennaro in
in planes and, to a certain extent, thick. The head is spherical in shape Images engraved on contemporary Constantinople. After this event,
inorganic, apart from the arms and the and rests directly on the shoulders; it cylinder seals, in particular, suggest Doctor Henry relocated to Bassora,
chest where delicately carved muscles is covered by what appears to be a a date in the early Late Uruk phase on the Persian Gulf, where he soon
can be discerned. Many anatomical hemispherical cap, but may actually (3300–3200 BC). The Uruk “king- died. The circumstances of discovery
details are given by simple incised represent a headband holding the priest” is generally portrayed with are, however, unclear and the place
lines such as the toes, the separation figure’s hair. The face is framed by a the full insignia connected to his role; mentioned in the letter, Nineveh,
line of the legs, the fingers and the flat, crescent-shaped beard, which, the four figurines from Padua, Paris where the statuette should have been
sternum. Others like the genitals, the in the front view at least, masks the and Zurich being, up to date, the only “picked up”, raises some unanswered
discoidal beard, the hair and the cap’s absence of the neck; the eyes, the cases where he is depicted naked. questions. The site of the Kuyunjik
brim, the lips, the nose and the eyes ears and other details are delimited They may represent kings in “cultic site (the ancient Assyrian capital of
are accentuated in their importance by by incisions and underscored by nudity” performing a ritual for the Nineveh) near modern-day Mosul was
the representation in full relief. a light relief. The body is strictly gods, or, alternatively, they may be indeed occupied in the Uruk period,
Colour remains on the rear side of the symmetrical in all details. There is a images of dead, heroicised kings. but this phase of its history is poorly
hair and on the back show that the remarkable contrast, in the style of The Padua figurine was rediscovered investigated and nothing similar to the
statuette was originally partly painted: the figure, between the upper and a few years ago in the reserve figurine has yet emerged from there,
still perceptible is a V-shaped trace on the lower part of the body: while the collections of the Museo whilst the nearest parallels come
the hair and an oval structure in the former is well modelled and rich in Archeologico. It has a very peculiar from Southern Iraq, in particular from
centre of the statuette’s back with an details, the latter appears as a squared history that well represents the Uruk. It cannot be therefore excluded
extension on either side at its bottom rough-hewn block of stone, on which intellectual and historic climate in that “Nineveh” may be wrong: we
end, all painted in dark brown, now the genitals stand out as the only which during the nineteenth-century might be dealing with an attempt to
faded. While the traces on the hair accurately rendered detail. The back diplomats, intellectuals, antiquaries dignify the origins of the statuette by
65 Antiquarischen Gesellschaft in Zürich.
need no further explanation a part of of the figure is definitely coarser in its and adventurers took part, in the assigning it to a site that gained an
Theil 2: Griechisch-Italisch-Römische
Standing nude “king-priest” the hairstyle, the function of the back’s appearance, but not completely flat framework of the decadent Ottoman exceptional echo among nineteenth-
Abtheilung; Assyrisch-Aegyptische
painted structure remains unclear (also and devoid of details. The summary empire, in the rediscovery of ancient century educated Europeans, or just
Southern Mesopotamia Abtheilung (rothe Etiquette), Dr.
part of the coiffure/jelwelry?). treatment of body volumes is not Mesopotamian civilisation. The year with a confusion between Nineveh and
Uruk period (ca. 3300–3000 BC) Ulrich, Zürich p. 155, no. 58; A. Boissier
Together with the two statuettes in lacking in vigour and conveys an of donation year – 1876 – was easily other Northern or Southern Iraqi sites
Limestone, H. 25 cm, W. 9.8 cm 1912, Notice sur quelques monuments
the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the impression of power and strength. The obtained from the museum’s inventory, (such as Nimrud, Babylon, etc.), of
Archäologische Sammlung Universität assyriens à l’Université de Zürich,
figurine in the Musei Civici in Padua figure’s preservation is remarkable: which also contained the epistolary which other contemporary examples
Zürich, Zurich, inv. 1942 Imprimerie Atar, Genève, especially
(here cat. 66), recently rediscovered, it is complete and unbroken, except exchange between Andrea Gloria (the are known. What is sure is that the
pp. 28–30, no. 58; H. Blümner 1914,
the Zurich “king-priest” is part of a for a modern break which cuts it museum’s director) and the statuette’s date of the discovery is close to the
Antiquarische Gesellschaft in Zürich, Führer durch die archäologische
group of four statuettes, obviously approximately into two halves at the owner, the doctor Antonio Fabris period when figures like P.E. Botta and
Ankäufe & Geschenke 1862–1874 Sammlung der Universität Zürich,
all found together around 1860 level of the waist. Its surface is slightly from Padua (1809?–1877). Fabris’s A.H. Layard made their outstanding
(Staatsarchiv des Kantons Zürich W Albert Müllers Verlag, Zürich, p. 8, no.
in Southern Iraq and then soon worn and covered by a yellowish, letter describes part of the events discoveries in Northern Iraq and that
I 3 274.4), 25 no. 20, reproduced in 237.
purchased by European residents on slightly pinkish homogeneous patina. connected with the acquisition of it broadly coincides with the period in
Mango et al. 2008, p. 35, fig. 15); F.
Bibliography: Müller 1976; Aruz, the local market. The Zurich statuette Some incised details have nearly the figurine: the doctor writes that which the Paris and Zurich statuettes
Bürkli 1864, Neunzehnter Bericht über
Wallenfels 2003, no. 8; Hansen 2003; is the smallest but, nevertheless, the been obliterated by wear and a few he received it, on 6 September 1872, came to light in rather similar
die Verrichtungen der Antiquarischen
Evans 2003, p. 38, no. 8; Gambino, most elaborate and finest specimen protruding areas (e.g. the nose and from a dear friend and university circumstances.
Gesellschaft (der Gesellschaft für
Rova 2005, pp. 22–23, figs. 5, 12; of the group. The statuettes have to the lips) have partially chipped off. colleague of his, Sante Zennaro R.E., G.C.
vaterländische Alterthümer) in
Mango et. al. 2008; Azara 2012, p. 235; be connected with the “king-priest” It is an almost exact replica of three (1809–1872/1876?), a doctor in
Zürich. Vom November 1862 bis References: Gambino, Rova 2005, no. 94,
Vogel 2013, pp. 139–145, fig. 20.4 b. or the “great man”, i.e. the leader of well-known statuettes, two of which Constantinople who, at some point in pp. 6–53.
December 1863, David Bürkli, Zürich,
the city state of Uruk, which – after are exhibited in the Départment des 1860, got the statuette from another
p. 6 sq.; R. Ulrich, A. Heizmann, Mostly intact; surface partially
the intensive field work of the last 100 Antiquités Orientales at the Louvre doctor, “d.r Henry, Bolognese”.
1890, Catalog der Sammlungen der corroded; small vulnerations on the

206 207
208 209
67 1
For the discovery of the figure at Umma
(present-day Jokha) with its companion
Bull-man piece around 1930 and a complete history,
see Ortiz 1996.
Southern Mesopotamia, Umma 2
The author of this entry adopted the earlier
(Modern Jokha,1)
attribution by Donald P. Hansen, reviewing
Early Dynastic I period his later dating for this and the companion
(ca. 2900–2650 BC2) piece in Baghdad, see Ortiz 1996.
Alabaster, H. 34.8 cm 3
Information relayed by Donald P. Hansen.
George Ortiz Collection, Geneva 4
Cooper 1986, pp. 91–92.
This figure and its pendant were a
Bibliography: Aruz, Wallenfeld 2003, chance find and found together. This
no. 18 with previous bibliography. example entered a private collection and
its companion piece, the Iraq museum in
The statue was carved from
Baghdad. Confusion as to the ownership
translucent alabaster, with details
and location of these figures has led to
made of different materials, possibly erroneous information being given in
shell, lapis lazuli, gold, silver or scholarly publications, see Ortiz 1996.
copper. Various drilled holes remain
for the incrustation of horns, tail and
lower legs; those in the beard suggest
that originally the hair was possibly
accentuated by a metal sheet, and the
two in the chest probably served also
for affixing or inlaying. The eyes and
eyebrows would have been inlaid.
The use of composite materials
belongs to a tradition that began
in the Late Uruk period, though this
figure is later in date.3
The inscription behind the right
shoulder of this figure is generally
accepted as “For Enlil Pabilgagi, king
of Umma”,4 a major Sumerian city best
known in history for the war with its
neighbour and rival, Lagash.
The statue represents a nude bull-
man, a mythological figure, and
has a companion piece in the Iraq
Museum in Baghdad.5 They are
the only two known examples of
Mesopotamian bull-men in the
round. More commonly, the bull-man,
often ithyphallic, appears on seals
with heroes and in animal combat
scenes. Both statues are carved from a
particularly fine green-yellow alabaster
with rust coloured veins. The example
in Baghdad is slightly smaller (27.5
cm). However, the workmanship of the
sex, nose and mouth, the similarity
of the three-tiered belt, the way the
stone is carved to reveal veining across
the shoulders, the polish and general
appearance suggest they are not only
from the same major workshop, but in
all likelihood by the same hand.
These bull-men are related to a group
of copper statues of nude males
functioning as stands. The vertical
hole in the head of the present statue
suggests that it served as a cultic
object, perhaps also as a stand. With
clasped hands in a dedicatory gesture,
this figure is undoubtedly a temple
furnishing. The kennelling figure
holding a vessel on its head from
Shara temple at Tell Agrab belongs to
the same tradition.

210 211
68 here, the pupil and brow in dark 69 which had to be imported from the 70 was typical of Sumerian culture for The cup this figure is holding in his
blue lapis lazuli set in black bitumen Oman peninsula. It became the royal the decoration of chests, sounding hands identifies him as taking part in
Face of composite statue Face of composite statue Mosaic inlay of seated man
contrast with the marine shell of the stone par excellence of the dynasts board of lyres, board games and a banquet, one of the major social
holding a cup
Southern Mesopotamia, Sumer iris. Gypsum alabaster is common Southern Mesopotamia, Sumer of Akkad who took power around pieces of furniture, like the famous and religious rituals of the Sumerian
Early Dynastic II period (ca. 2500 BC) in the Syro-Mesopotamian steppe, Early Dynastic II period (ca. 2500 BC) 2330 BC and of Gudea, ruler of Mesopotamia, Sumer Standard of Ur (British Museum). rulers, who held banquets with the
Gypsum alabaster, lapis lazuli, bitumen and there are sources of bitumen, Black stone (bitumen? diorite?), Lagash (2150–2100 BC). But a number Early Dynastic II period The artists played with materials of accompaniment of music and dance
and shell (eyes), H. 10.9 cm, W. 8 cm a hydrocarbon used as glue and limestone or shell, H. 12 cm of votive statues in this material (ca. 2500 BC) different colours and stones, marine to honour their gods. These banquets
Private Collection, Paris waterproofing, in Babylonia. But lapis Private Collection, Paris appeared in the Early Dynastic period, Shell (or calcite), lapis lazuli, shells from the Persian Gulf and Indian were commemorated on a number
lazuli is found only in Afghanistan and for instance in Ur and Tello. H. 8.5 cm, W. 6 cm Ocean; lapis lazuli from Afghanistan; of media, on cylinder seals, which
The side of the face is hacked for As in the previous piece, the contour
is good evidence of the network of C.A. Private Collection, Paris carnelian from India. Ur, a major city served as personal ornaments and
insertion into another material and a of this face is hacked for insertion in
trade established by the Sumerians. state in the south of Mesopotamia, administrative tools; on stone reliefs
hole drilled on top for a peg would another material, the body and a hair References: Heimpel 1982; Yule, Guba 2001. A shell (or calcite?) inlay plaque,
The intense gaze, high cheekbones, had easy access to marine shells from which were deposited in sanctuaries;
have secured the attachment to the piece. Of the incrusted eyes there for insertion in a mosaic panel. The
smiling mouth and fleshy chin bring the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Marine and on mosaic panels, as in the present
hair piece: Sumerian statues were remains the iris carved in marine figure is dressed in a skirt of woollen
to life this worshipper, who entrusted shells circulated inland, as far away as case. This inlay is unusual in the fact
often made in several parts, with shell; a cupula for the pupil is now fleece, the kaunakes, which was the
a statue made to his (or hers? it is Mari on the Euphrates, where mosaic that the guest raises his cup in his two
different pieces of stone assembled missing. The eyebrows typically meet ceremonial costume of ancient Sumer
impossible to establish) image, so that panels in Sumerian style have been hands, his left arm across the torso. The
together. The technique was above the nose. Rings under the eyes in the third millennium. His physique,
the image would stand and pray in found in palatial and temple contexts. cup is also unusual, a fluted open bowl
developed early in Mesopotamia, give them a tired appearance and round head, short neck and pot belly is
front of the gods. In the mosaics from Palace A at Kish, instead of the standard conical goblet.
perhaps because stone was rare. the mouth is serious, a concerned characteristic of the Sumerian humour
C.A. Babylonia, limestone silhouettes are C.A.
Furthermore, it allowed for a great and worried individual who turns to aesthetic.
inserted in plaques of slate. At Ebla, in
vividness in the combination of Reference: Aruz, Wallenfels 2003, no. 105 his (or her?) gods for comfort. The The mosaic technique of assembling References: Aruz, Wallenfels 2003, examples
from Mari. Northern Syria, mosaic panels were cut from Kish, Ebla, Mari and Ur (no. 52 Standard
different colours of stone. Eyes and black stone chosen for this image is cut-out figures in shell or limestone
out using local gypsum alabaster. of Ur).
eyebrows were thus often inserted; probably diorite, an exotic hard stone on a background of coloured stone

212 213
71 A diadem of plaited hair encircles of Mari (Aleppo museum), dated ca. 72 in Arabia, India and Anatolia. There is
the head and holds a chignon on the 2500–2300 BC; a magnificent and evidence for the presence of imported
Head from a royal Head of male votive
nape. Two parallel holes are drilled monumental copper alloy head from crystal beads in Mesopotamia as early
statuette statuette
transversally to the chignon and were Nineveh, dated ca. 2300 BC (Iraq as the fourth millennium. Sculptures
Mesopotamia probably originally meant to secure a Museum, Baghdad). There is little Mesopotamia in rock crystal were very rare in the
Early Dynastic II–III period metal attachment around it. The beard doubt that this exquisite head was Early Dynastic II–III period ancient Near East: one example,
(ca. 2500–2200 BC) covers most of the cheeks in long part of a royal statue, made in an (ca. 2500–2200 BC) dated to the mid-second millennium,
Lapis lazuli, H. 4.6 cm wavy locks which manage vertical rows exotic material, lapis lazuli, that was Rock crystal, H. 7.6 cm, W. 3 cm was found in the vicinity of Tarsus,
Private Collection, Paris of small circular hollows between the intended to magnify the international Ligabue Collection, Venice in Western Anatolia, a possible
curls: this delicately decorative effect status of the owner. provenance for the stone.
Bibliography: Moortgat-Correns 1967; The shaved head, the long beard and
may be observed, for instance, on the C.A. C.A.
Spycket 1981, p. 89, fig. 32. the rendering of the eyes, especially
statue of Ebih-Il from Mari (2500–2300
Reference: Cluzan, Butterlin 2014. the eyebrows meeting above the nose, Reference: Spycket 1981, pl. 209.
A male head, the eyebrows meeting BC, Louvre).
make it possible to identify this small
over the nose, the eyes modelled The diadem of plaited hair is very
sculpture as part of a votive statue of
and bordered by thick well modelled specific, known from a small number of
the Protodynastic period from Sumer.
lids, soft cheeks and small mouth with objects, all of royal identity: the gold
The hardness of the stone, which was
joined, slightly smiling lips. The nose, helmet of King Meskalamdug from the
probably sand polished, prevented
the tip now missing, was small. The royal cemetery of Ur (Iraq Museum,
the artist from carving fine details, as
hair is finely striated and wavy, leaving Baghdad), the alabaster statue of Ishki
in the previous n°. There is no rock
the ears free. A row of short hooked Mari (whose name was previously read
crystal in Mesopotamia. According to
curls lines the forehead and the nape. as Lamgi Mari), ruler of the city-state
Pliny, important sources were mined

214 215
73 right arm, freeing the right shoulder, 74
while the covered left arm emerges
Torso of female votive Head of female figure
from a slot sleeve. A braid trims the
neckline. Her finely striated hair is Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia parted in the middle and assembled Early Dynastic III period
Early Dynastic II period on the neck in a large bun striated in (ca. 2300–2200 BC)
(ca. 2500 BC) a whirl, creating an elegant conk-shell Gypsum alabaster, H. 9.5 cm,
Basalt, H. 12 cm, W. 7 cm effect. W. 6.3 cm
Private Collection, Paris The stone, a black vacuolar basalt, Private Collection, London
indicates a possible provenance in
A confident, charming image of a The stone, gypsum alabaster, is
northern, volcanic areas which were
female worshipper, her hands clasped common to the Syria-Mesopotamian
accultured to Sumerian art, perhaps in
in the classic Mesopotamian gesture mountain ranges. Like the previous
Northern Syria.
of prayer. The soft flesh of the face figure, this statuette has an elaborate
contrasts with the large and deep coiffure, the hair parted in the middle
hollowed eye sockets, where white Reference: Spycket 1981, pl. 72. and ending in a massive bun on the
stone would have originally been nape, striated in a rhythmic whirl.
incrusted. She wears the woolly The face is soft, the eye sockets very
fleeced kaunakes garment of Sumerian large, the mouth smiling faintly – a
sculptures during the early dynastic very much alive image of a worshipper
period. The shape of this feminine gazing a little diffidently at her deity.
garment is typically tucked under the C.A.

216 217
from iran
to the oxus

218 219
Art From the Oxus

he Oxus civilization, or BMAC (for Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex),
now better known thanks to the discoveries of the Russian archaeologists
Vladmir Masson and Viktor Sarianidi and the progress of the exploration
of Central Asia, was a privileged moment in the history of Central Asia. It emerged
at the end of the third millennium, around the upper valley of the Amu Darya, the
Oxus river of the Greeks. Monumental urban centres, palaces and cultic buildings
were uncovered, notably at Gonur depe in Turkmenistan. Elite cemeteries yielded
composite female statuettes, vessels in precious metal and exotic goods imported
from the Indus valley and Syria-Mesopotamia. Trade with these distant regions is
probably among the causes for the fast development of the area, conveniently placed
at mid-distance. The frequent relations of Central Asia with the Iranian plateau
resulted in the formation of a mixed, intercultural identity extending from Elam to
Central Asia. Figurative artefacts in intercultural style were created in production
centres like Jiroft or tepe Yahia in Eastern Iran and were exported as far as Arabia,
Mesopotamia and Northern Syria. This prosperous civilization vanished around 1700
“Oxus Lady” with bird body BC for reasons yet unclear.
Eastern Iran, Central Asia Artefacts which reappeared on the market in the 1960s have long been the object
Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
of debate as to their origin and meaning. Laboratory analysis being so far inconclu-
Private Collection, UK
(cat. 75, detail) sive to eliminate forgeries, one has to rely on flair, an unsatisfactory instrument and,
more reliably, on the examination of materials, techniques and iconography. Thus,
a coherent artistic movement is now in the process of reconstruction, around two
core iconographic groups: the “Oxus Lady” (a term that we prefer than the so-called
“Bactrian princess”) and the “Scarface”, a dragon snake genie in human guise.
To this core group, two iconographic types recently identified are added here, for
the first time: the “Bird spirit” (cat. n° 75), possibly an avatar of the “Oxus Lady”, and
the kneeling youthful figure, (cat. n° 95-97), young and handsome, who embodies
the opposite characters of the “Scarface”.
All these statuettes are made by combining and assembling materials of con-
trasting colours. The preferred materials are chlorite (or similar dark green stones),
a whitish limestone or mottled alabaster or marine shells from the Indian Ocean.
Copper alloy or lapis lazuli, a semi-precious blue stone mined in the upper mountains
of Afghanistan, were also used. The art of faïence, an artificial vitreous composi-
tion, was invented simultaneously in Syria-Mesopotamia and the Indus. The Oxus
craftsmen used the technique for the production of mosaic scenes in mosaics and

220 221
Bowl decorated with scorpions
Eastern Iran-Central Asia
Oxus culture (late III millennium)
Ligabue Collection, Venice,
inv. CL 3452

Standing “Oxus Lady”
Eastern Iran Central Asia
Oxus Culture (late III millennium BC)
Chlorite and limestone
Musée du Louvre Abu Dhabi

figures (cat. n° 93-94). In the stone statuettes, the different elements of body and
costume were carved separately and joined, as in a puzzle, by tenon and mortices
or glue (imm. Ligabue Collection). The body of the female figures, entirely covered by
an all-enveloping mantle, are carved in dark stone, contrasting with the white face
and arms. The “Scarface” statuettes are in a reversed coloured pattern – the body
in dark stone, contrasting with a (generally) light-coloured kilt; the kneeling youths
are carved in either a light or dark body with a coloured kilt and dark hair. The sym-
metry/opposition of the colour pattern was a characteristic of the art of the Oxus, a
feature observable also in the iconography. Many different interpretations have been
proposed for these mythological characters and the question is still debated. But one
factual evidence is clear, regarding the testimony of the images themselves: taken as a
whole, the statuettes embody complementary and symmetrically opposed concepts –
beauty versus ugliness, male/female, age/youth, earth (dragon snake)/air (bird spirit),
human/animal, as they introduced hybrid creatures that combine human and animal
natures. Added to the imagery of other figurative arts of the Oxus, like the stone and
metal vessels, and the seals, the statuettes appear as part of a larger narrative where
opposite and complementary forces interact in the eternal battle of the cosmos, Life
and Death, the yearly cycle of Nature, Wild and Civilized, the attraction of Beauty for
the Beast. In the broader perspective of the cosmic speculations elaborated by the
Mesopotamians and the Indo Iranians, Central Asia acted as both an intermediary
and a creative centre in the construction of a complex universe in action.

Bibliography: Lyonnet 2005; Vidale 2017.

222 223
Clay Figures from
South Turkmenistan

iancarlo Ligabue was instrumental in the scientific rediscovery of the an-
cient civilizations of Central Asia. The excavations he sponsored in Southern
Turkmenistan, the site of Adji Kui, brought a better understanding of the
evolution from village economy to urban societies and revealed a distinctive produc-
tion of baked clay figures.
In the Old World, terracotta figurines were the mainstream expression of pop-
ular beliefs since the Neolithic period. Those from Central Asia precede the arrival
of the Oxus culture and endured into the Bronze and Iron Age. Early images were
confined to animals – mostly bulls and sheep – in Ulug depe and to naked female
figures, well represented at the sites of Altyn tepe and Namazga. They are generally
depicted seated or reclining, their body may be a flat plaque cut into a combination
of triangles, an allusion to the pubic area folded at the waist or at the groin, or three
dimensional, with overemphasized hips and thighs and shortened torso. In all cases,
the arms are absent or reduced to stumps, the head is a mere stump, brought to
life by the addition “coffee bean” eyes. Such figures were found in the houses of the
living and in the tombs as well as possible cultic or public meeting places and may
have been an important part in social life.
With the arrival of the urban revolution of the Bronze Age and the changes it
brought to society, new terracotta types were introduced, in a much more limited
number than female figures, an indication of hierarchy: the best examples were
found at Adji Kui – large male figures, their body constructed of boldly assembled
triangles, naked displaying their genitalia. Unlike the reclining female figures, these
masculine statuettes stand independently on their solid, slightly parted legs and
confront the spectator.
CAPTION??? Bibliography: Rossi Osmida 2007.

Following pages
Aerial of the excavations at Gonur
depe (Turkmenistan), a major centre
of the Oxus Culture: the central citadel

224 225
226 227

“Oxus Lady” with bird body

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone and lapis lazuli,
H. 9.1 cm, W. 16.8 cm
Private Collection, UK

This piece is unique among all

the “Oxus Lady” statuettes, in its
combination of a human head with
the body of a bird. The human head is
set vertically, as in the triangular type
of “Oxus Lady” (no. 76–78), and the
composite technique of combined
pieces of different stone is typical of
the Oxus culture.
The spread wings and the fan-shaped
tail are shown en face in a heraldic
attitude. Part of the wings and the tail
are covered with feathers engraved
with vertical striated elements;
the remaining part is finely incised
with continuous parallel wavy lines,
evocative of flowing water or hair. The
upper part of the wings is shaped in a
sort of mantle with a raised coverlet.
As in many statuettes of the “Oxus
Lady”, the face shows delicate details
of the nose and mouth but not the
eyes: they may have been painted
instead of sculpted; but the “blind
look” suggests the figure may have
something to do with the world of
the dead and came from a funerary
Winged goddesses are present in
the arts of the Oxus, notably on seals
where the anthropomorphic female
figure dominates felines and snakes
(no. 91). Birds seen en face appear on
statuettes and seals and on the rim of
vessels in precious metal. Birds with
human heads occur in a number of
cultures – Greece, Egypt, the Near
East – and are generally considered to
embody the spirits of air and heavens,
or alternately, of the Underworld.


Triangular “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Lazuli, copper alloy, H. 3.5 cm, W. 3 cm
Private Collection, Paris

An important variant in the multiple

aspects of the “Oxus Lady” shows a
flat triangular plaque in dark stone,
chlorite or lapis lazuli, with a female
head erected vertically.1 The head
is generally carved of white stone
contrasting in colour with the dark
body; the eyes are often not depicted,
giving it a blind look. The rare copper
alloy head of no. 76, would have
looked originally golden before
oxidation of the metal set in. The flat
body is divided in the middle by a
deep groove, on each side of which
parallel wavy lines are bordered by
raised undulating flaps. The fine wavy
lines of the garment do not depict
the usual woolly fleece of the dress
of the “Oxus Lady”: in their sinuous
continuity, they are suggestive of
flowing water and the probable
power of the “Oxus Lady” over that
primordial element.
Pottier 1984.


Triangular “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, H. 4 cm, W. 12 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Triangular “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, W. 11 cm
Private Collection, London

230 231
79 the knees like the pieces of a puzzle
(nos. 87–88 PR DD). The white head
Standing “Oxus Lady”
always contrasts in colour with
Eastern Iran, Central Asia the dark dress and head piece. It
Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC) is generally sculpted with a finely
Chlorite, limestone, detailed nose and mouth; the place
H. 20 cm, W. 10 cm of the eyes is sometimes left blank,
Private Collection, Paris and the blind effect suggests the
depiction of a blind “seer”, endowed
The statuettes of the “Oxus Lady” are
with mysterious powers. Others have
typical of the Bronze Age civilization
eyes incrusted in coloured material
of the Oxus.1 They were distributed
for a more impressive look, or their
over a large geographic area, during
large eyes were reserved in relief
a long time, between ca. 2300 and
during the carving of the face. Many
1800/1700 BC. They are made in the
statuettes still possess an additional
composite technique used also for
piece of stone for the hair, arranged
the “Scarface”, assembling pieces
in a wig, an elaborate bun or a turban,
in different colours and stones. They
in a large variety of styles, from the
are depicted standing, seated or
“pill box” (no. 81) to the “Spanish
squatting, the body entirely hidden
comb” (no. 83). It is always a question
by a heavy garment, dress and
whether the separate head, wig and
mantle, finely engraved with the tufts
dress part belong to each other: the
of a woolly fleece derived from the
examples found in the excavations
Sumerian Kaunakes. The fleece itself
of Gonur indicate that they may have
is engraved in an infinity of designs
been exchanged in the course of the
which are probably significant: thin
“life” of the statuette before final
wavy stripes flowing like a stream of
deposition. More than a hundred
water are reminiscent of the triangular
“Oxus Lady” statuettes have been
figures, perhaps a water spirit like the
recovered so far (not including
triangular statuettes (n° 76–78); long
probable forgeries). A few are known
tufts may radiate from the shoulder
to have been deposited in the tombs
like the rays of a star, designating the
of women of high status and were first
“Oxus Lady” as perhaps an astral
interpreted as images of “Bactrian
spirit; or like feathers, suggesting a
princesses”. The “Oxus Lady” is
bird nature (see n° 75). The “Ligabue
depicted on other figurative artefacts
Lady” (no. 86) is so far the only such
from the Bactrian - Oxus civilization
figure wearing a smooth garment,
of the Bronze Age, as vessels in metal
perhaps because it was left unfinished,
and stone, seals and adornments.
perhaps because the sculptor broke
There, she is depicted taking part in
with the tradition, achieving a bold
banquet feasts or associated with wild
geometric design. “Lady” no. 86 is
and mythological beasts, felines and
a rare example of a dress cut from
snakes. The statuettes themselves
a large block of lapis lazuli, instead
allude to the fundamental elements –
of the typical chlorite: as is often the
air, water, and earth (as representative
case in working with lapis lazuli, the
of the underworld) – in a narrative that
carving tends to be broader than the
incites to recognize a divine nature in
finely incised chlorite, resulting here in
these graceful images. The question
a powerful whirl-like movement of the
of the repetition of apparently similar
woolly tufts. When the “Lady” is seen
figures, classifiable into types and
squatting on her knees, the draping
answering to similar iconographic
of the garment around the torso and
codes, is still debated. Owning such a
the back creates strong diagonals,
statuette may have been a necessity
resulting in attractive, differently
for a large number of specific persons
oriented waves of the fleece. In the
(women?), who wished to confess their
standing figures, voluminous sleeves
faith or advertise their appurtenance
give poise and balance to the image
to an identity. But each figure is
(nos. 79–80). The “block” statuettes
unique and individual, the creation of
whose body is made in one piece of
a master sculptor.
chlorite (nos. 84–85) are seated on a
stool or throne, usually hidden by the
garment: the example (cat. 84) is an 1
See Pottier 1984; Amiet 1986; Benoit 2010;
exception where the stool is carved Benoit 2011; Francfort 2003; Vidale 2017.
from the back of the dress. Another
variant of the seated “Lady” is the
thin and elongated body, clad in a
straight skirt, and folded in angular
position that recalls the figures on
the seals (see no. 91): the separate
stone elements are assembled at

232 233

Standing “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, H. 18.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris

Bibliography: Jarrige 2002, no. 1.


Seated “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, H. 10 cm
Private Collection, London

234 235

Seated “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Lapis lazuli, H. 23 cm, W. 18.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Head of “Oxus Lady”,

high hair ornament

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, H. 6.6 cm
Private Collection, London

236 237
“Oxus Lady” Seated
Block-shaped “Oxus Lady”
on a stool
Eastern Iran, Central Asia
Eastern Iran, Central Asia
Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, H. 13.5 cm
Chlorite, limestone, H. 8.2 cm,
Private Collection, Paris
W. 5.5 cm
Private Collection, UK Bibliography: Jarrige 2002, no. 11.

238 239

“Oxus Lady” called

“ligabue venus”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, H. 11 cm,
W. 13.2 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

Bibliography: Ligabue, Salvatori 1988,

pp. 244–245, fig. 112–113.

This majestic “Oxus Lady” is seated

upright on the ground, her legs folded
and hidden by the thick mantle which
covers her entire body and arms.
She is made in the typical composite
technique, with different pieces of
dark chlorite stone assembled at
the waist under a straight, vertical
torso. The head and long neck
in light limestone emerge from a
recessed and circular neckline; the
facial traits consist of large eyes in
relief and finely modelled lips and
nose. The coiffure is, like the dress,
carved in a contrasting dark colour,
partially broken over one ear: the
finely striated hair is combed in a
long lock falling over the chest, in a
very rare arrangement, which occurs
more frequently on images of male
youths (cat. 95–96). The attitude and
composite technique is well known
from a number of Oxus statuettes,
but so far, the Ligabue figure is the
only one whose garment has been left
smooth instead of being engraved
with the woollen fleece derived from
the Sumerian Kaunakes. The bold
diagonal lines on the chest and across
the back create a balanced geometric
volume. The whole figure achieves an
expression of calm confidence and
aloof presence.

240 241

Seated “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, H. 22 cm, W. 8.5 cm
Private Collection, Paris


Seated “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Lapis lazuli, limestone, H. 16 cm
Private Collection, London, inv. 2243

242 243

“Oxus Lady”
as figure-of-eight
mosaic inlay

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Faience, limestone or shell, H. 13 cm,
W. 8 cm
Private Collection, UK

The rhythmically flowing tufts of the

woolly garment in both figures are
derived from Sumerian kaunakes.
Both are made in siliceous faience,
a vitreous artificial material moulded
and coloured with metallic oxides,
according to an early pyrotechnology
invented at about the same period
in Syro-Mesopotamia and the Indus.
It was adopted by Oxus craftsmen
to produce statuettes (cat. 90, see
also no. 98), ornaments and mosaic
panels, comparable to the “Standard
or Ur” (British Museum).1 This figure-
of-eight plaque, masterfully designed
in dynamic curves and symmetric
counter curves, may have been part
of such a mosaic panel, with inlays
for the head and hair. Similar mosaic
panels with designs of mythological
monsters have been found in the
site of Gonur. A faience statuette
from Gonur is comparable to cat.
90, a figure obtained from a double
mould, leaving the inside hollow and
showing where the different parts were
assembled before firing.
Caubet 2012.


Seated “Oxus Lady”

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Faience (body), limestone (head),
H. 9 cm, W. 8 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

244 245

Axe with a seated male


Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Copper alloy, silver incrustations,
H. 17.8 cm, W. 7.8 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

Bibliography: Ligabue, Salvatori 1988,

pp. 234–235, fig. 102–103.

The blade of the axe is attached to a

socket, where a wood handle would
have been inserted. On the back of
the socket, a small figure was added in
the lost wax technique. A male figure
wearing a long narrow mantel that
91 covers his left arm, leaving his right
arm free to rest on his thighs, is seated
Stamp seal with winged
on a small mat. His face, with short
“Oxus Lady” on a snake
cut beard and bushy eyebrows, looks
Eastern Iran, Central Asia wise and peaceful, lightened by a kind
Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC) smile. The short hair is massed on
Copper alloy, Diam. 5 the forehead and framed by two thin
Ligabue Collection, Venice dreadlocks that spring in high relief
from his temples. Such hairstyle occurs
The cloisonné technique is typical of
on a number of male figures engraved
Oxus stamp seals1: the metal is cut out
on metal vessels and on statuettes
in silhouette. One side is modelled
(cat. 95–97) and is a good indication
in low relief, with a tenon to hold the
that the axe was made in the Oxus
seal. The reverse is partitioned and
civilization. Incrusted in gold threads
may have contained coloured inlays.
in the copper alloy of the axe socket is
The elegant body of the “Oxus Lady”,
a decorative motif of a rosette-shaped
her legs joined in a long narrow skirt,
star in a pattern of scales, perhaps a
is adorned with sickle-shaped wings
stylized mountain landscape at night.
which designate her as a divine spirit
Under this motif, a line drawing in gold
of air. She is seated on the coils of a
represents, on each side of the axe,
snake, an indication of her mastering
a seated silhouette seems to repeat
the forces from the Earth and the
the main figure, perhaps in prayer. The
ornate weapon may be a dedication to
the powers of the Underworld.
Pittman 2013. C.A.

246 247
93 the belt and ending each in a cupula.
The strips are deeply engraved and
“Scarface” with black kilt
often retain traces of an adhesive or
Eastern Iran, Central Asia incrustations in coloured stone or
Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC) gold.
Chlorite, limestone, red stone, gold, The entire skin is covered with a thin
H. 19.4 cm, W. 10.6 cm network of scales, quadrangular or
Private Collection, UK round, sinuously underlining the
muscles. As the woolly garment of
94 the “Oxus Lady” is derived from the
Mesopotamian kaunakes, the scale
“Scarface” with white kilt
motif is probably also derived from
Eastern Iran, Central Asia a Mesopotamian visual device used
Oxus culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC) to depict snakes as well as mountain
Chlorite, limestone, H. 11.5 cm landscapes. The disquieting figure of
Private Collection, London, inv. 2150 the “Scarface” is interpreted as an
anthropomorphized form of dragon
The “Scarface”, so named on
snake, perhaps an avatar of the snakes
account of the deep gash that cuts
mastered by the “Oxus Lady” (cat.
across his face, is the most striking
91). All the “Scarface” statuettes
of the mythological genies in the
carry a small pot tucked under one
art of the Oxus. They have been the
arm, so that the liquid would fall from
subject of much speculation among
the mouth, therefore the creature is
scholars as to their provenance,
also associated with water. Snakes,
date, function and identity.1 About a
in their sinuous, flowing movement,
dozen have reappeared since the late
are often depicted in Mesopotamian
1960s, and they all present the same
art with the same metaphor image of
characteristics with small variants.
a closed spiral or coil. It is tempting
Their composite technique is similar
to understand the “Scarface” as a
to that employed for the “Oxus Lady”
complex creature embodying several
statuette, but the colour contrast
elements: water, serpent, mountain.
is reversed: the body in two parts
He may have earned his scar in the
(one for the head, torso and arms,
course of a mythological, cosmic
one for the legs) in dark chlorite,
battle, perhaps with the “Oxus
the kilt is generally carved from
Lady”, his foe, counterpart and
light calcite. Cat. 93 with a black kilt
complementary spirit. This would be
is an interesting variant. The very
an early example of the Indo-Aryan
large head, about one-sixth of the
narrative of the Dragon slaying, the
total height of the figure, is sunk in
hero and the handsome maiden.
the torso, with almost no neck. The
stern face is fierce looking, the nose
long and triangular, the eye sockets 1
Francfort 1982; arguments summed up in
hollowed out for incrustation (often Vidale 2017, p. 168.
missing one or the other). The collar
beard reaches down to the bulging
pectorals, leaving free the tightly
closed, unsmiling lips. Piercings
in the upper and lower lips are
incrusted in coloured stone, a type
of jewellery present on the kneeling
youth statuettes (cat. 95–97). The low
forehead is often circled with a ring
diadem sculpted together with the
head (cat. 94) or incrusted in metal,
iron or gold (cat. 93). The dome-like
hair falls on the lower back, ending in
a point. Only one such “Scarface”, the
first to reappear, wears a “top hat” in
stone (Ghirshman 1963).
The body, stocky and muscular, stands
firmly on the legs, slightly apart,
conveying the impression that the
figure is gathering up his strength, as
preparing for a confrontation. Some
of the statuettes wear hoof-shaped
shoes (cat. 93) or are cut at the ankles
(cat. 94). The kilt, a short tubular skirt
belted at the waist, is decorated with
regularly spaced strips hanging from

248 249

Kneeling youth
with dark body

Eastern Iran, Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Chlorite, limestone, H. 33 cm
Private Collection, London, inv. 2086

In complete contrast with the

disquieting and violent image of
the “Scarface”, these peaceful and
youthful figures are shown kneeling in
repose, their legs folded under their
skirt. The attitude, where the lower half
of the body is hidden under the bag-
shaped skirt, is frequently depicted
in banquet feasts scenes engraved
on metal vessels and seals from the
Oxus. The composite technique,
using different stones in contrasting
colours, is that used for the “Oxus
Lady” and the “Scarface”. The
kneeling youths share several details
with the “Scarface”: the dark body
in cat. 95, the muscular torso, the kilt
incrusted with hanging stripes, the lips
ornaments, the thin metallic diadem
of no. 96. Unlike the “Scarface”, they
are clean shaven, their face serious
but engaging, and their elaborate hair
style deceptively feminine, with long
Subtle differences between each
of the kneeling figures, such as the
colour pattern and the stone (or
faience in the case of cat. 98), may
indicate different role and status.
Cat 95–96 with their erect torso
convey an impression of restrained
force and the calm confidence of
the ruling class, as indicated by the
diadem of cat. 96. Cat. 97 has a softer,
less muscular body than 95–96; the
stance is submissive, as he offers a
vessel in both hands, a subaltern in
the action. It is tempting to compare
this offering to the pot tucked under
the arm of the “Scarface”: does the
vessel allude to different moments
in a ritual, to another episode from
a complex narrative from which only
fragments survive? Cat. 98, another
lower participant in the narrative, is
depicted with both hands joined on
the chest, in the typical attitude of
prayer adopted in the visual arts from
Syro-Mesopotamia and Elam.

250 251
96 97

Kneeling youth Kneeling youth

with white body offering a vase

Eastern Iran, Central Asia Eastern Iran-Central Asia

Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC) Oxus Culture (ca. 2200–1800 BC)
Gypsum alabaster, chlorite, H. 20 cm Gypsum alabaster, chlorite, H. 20 cm
Private Collection, London Private Collection, London

252 253
More recently, the statuette of culture of the Oxus Valley.
a man devoured by snakes from On the contrary, the iconographic
the Monastery of San Lazzaro has motif – a bald, nude, kneeling man
been associated with a group of with a vessel on his upper back whose
sculptures known as balafrés in weight pushes his torso forward,
French, Narbenmänner in German, with his arms immobilized behind
and sfregiati in Italian, which translates his back devoured by two powerful
as, “the scarred” (Vidale 2017, p. snakes – leads more convincingly to
198). There are sixteen of these attribute our sculpture to the broader
statuettes, made of a composite of context of the small-sized statuary of
chlorite and limestone/marble of the Late Uruk – Jemdet-Nasr epoch.
unknown provenance, representing As mentioned, iconographic parallels
free-standing men with scarred faces, with analogous representations of
a single eye (the second eye being nude, kneeling prisoners with their
an empty orbit), a beard similar to arms tied behind their backs and
that of our figurine, the body covered attacked by birds of prey or snakes
with snake scales, and an object have been noted in a series of relief
interpreted as a jug under one arm.2 and freestanding figures as well as
Vidale’s interpretation is that the in seal impressions from this period.
balafrés figurines represent an The attribution is also indicated by
ancient Indo-Iranian ancestor of Indra, the stylistic rendering of the figure
the hero of the Rig-Veda, slayer of with its markedly plastic naturalism in
Vrtra, the celestial dragon that had combination with the heavy rigidity of
stopped the rains and devoured him the volumes of the body.
(represented by the skin covered with It is clearly possible and plausible
scales that envelops the balafrés). that this representation of a vessel
After slaying Vrtra, Indra pours the carrier imprisoned and devoured by
redemptive waters from his jug onto snakes should be associated with the
the surface of the land, restoring its mythic narratives of Mesopotamia,
98 cover his sides, resting their tails on devoured by two snakes is depicted of the many figurines found in fertility. As for the provenance of the either known narratives, such as the
the raised soles of the kneeling man’s on a truncated cone-shaped vessel temples or other sacred contexts in balafrés statuettes, Vidale theorizes myth of Etana, or unknown ones.
Kneeling youth in prayer
feet. On his cheeks are two incised with relief decorations coming Southern Mesopotamia representing that these figurines have a funerary Alternatively, it could be associated
Eastern Iran, Central Asia designs in the form of a star or rosette from the antiquities market but men or animals carrying vessels function and were deposited between with the broader mythological roots
Oxus Culture with a diameter of 0.4–0.5 cm, perhaps perhaps found in Uruk, in the and dating to between the Uruk 2300 and 1800 BC in burials of the spread through the vast regions
(ca. 2200–1800 BC) representing tattoos. flood plain of Southern Iraq. With and Protodynastic periods (late Oxus culture (present-day Amu- of Mesopotamia and central Asia.
Faience, H. 10 cm, W. 5.5 cm Unfortunately, the provenance of stylistic characteristics apparently fourth – mid-third millennium BC) darya River) between Afghanistan, Regardless, there are no specific
Private Collection, Paris the statuette is unknown. However, contemporaneous to the Venetian suggests that our statuette was also Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. He also findings to date in this regard. Finally,
despite the absence of conclusive statuette, the vessel is sculpted out used in a cult context. On the other proposes that the representations of the high probability that chloritized
information about its origin and the of a chloritized andesite quite similar hand, the iconography of the nude the man imprisoned and devoured high-potassium trachyandesite
context in which it was discovered, to the chloritized trachyandesite male imprisoned and devoured by by snakes of the Venetian statuette originated from the Zagros Mountains
Man imprisoned by snakes iconographic and stylistic analyses of of the Armenian collection. Two snakes is more difficult to interpret. should be associated with the of Iran suggests that the figurine from
the artefact alone make it possible other statuettes from the Southern The portrayal of lions and snakes figurines of the balafrés, given the the San Lazzaro collection belonged
Northeastern Iran or Central Asia
to realistically propose its cultural Mesopotamian area, most likely from attacking and devouring a man-hero similarity of their beards and the fact to a Late Uruk or Proto-Elamite/
3300–3000 BC (?) or 2200–1800 BC (?)
and chronological identity. Similarly, Tell es-Sukhairi and dating from the represents a very ancient motif, that they are both holding vessels Susa III site in the Iranian highlands
Trachyandesite and chlorite, H. 8.4 cm,
chemical-physical analysis of the late Protodynastic II – Protodynastic dating to the Middle Uruk period and being devoured by snake/ or the Susiana plain, or perhaps
W. 5.5 cm
stone allows us to hypothesize that III Periods (ca. 2600–2400 BC), depict in Mesopotamia (3500–3300 BC). dragons. Furthermore, he claims that from a Sumerian centre in southern
Congregazione Armena Mechitarista,
the region of provenance of the the same theme – a man imprisoned It is particularly diffuse in the Late scars like those marking their faces Mesopotamia, where it could have
polymineralic stone is the Zagros and devoured by snakes – using a Uruk – Jemdet Nasr (3300–2900 BC) also are visible on the left cheek of arrived along the long-distance
Bibliography: Morandi Bonacossi Mountains of Iran, where the presence very similar iconography to that of the in Mesopotamia and Iran, where it the man imprisoned by snakes, who trade routes that connected Sumer
1996; Morandi Bonacossi 2003. of chloritized trachyandesite is well San Lazzaro figurine. In the same way, also appeared in the Proto-Elamite would thus belong to the category and Iran beginning in the late fourth
documented. The high potassium the realistic execution, the attention epoch (Susa III phase: 3100–2900 of “the scarred” and could thus be millennium BC.
Housed in the Museum of the content typical of this volcanic rock to details of the face and body of the BC). Although the evidence is quite interpreted as a product of the Oxus M.B.D.
Monastery of the Congregazione makes it a rather unique material with man carrying the vessel, the attempt ephemeral, it has been suggested that culture and dated to the same period
Armena Mechitarista on the Island limited diffusion, found in the volcanic at delicate, plastic naturalistic effects the figure of a man carrying a vessel, as the balafrés figurines. 1
For a more in-depth discussion of the
of San Lazzaro in Venice, this figurine belt of the Iranian Zagros Mountains. and, in contrast, the rendering of the imprisoned and devoured by snakes, In fact, what Vidale erroneously statuette and its iconographic and stylistic
is an exceptional example of small- The most distinctive iconographic pectoral muscles with exaggerated, may be associated with the third and interprets as three wavy scars on parallels, see Morandi Bonacossi 1996 and
aspects of the sculpture – the man’s rigid geometric volumes, the heavy, little-conserved part of the popular 2003.
sized statuary from the ancient Near the left cheek of the San Lazzaro 2
For a synthesis of the interpretations
East of the protohistorical epoch. disc-like beard, his nakedness, his square modelling of the legs and Mesopotamian myth of Etana, well- statuette also appear on the right
proposed to date to explain the meaning of
The sculpture, 8.4 cm tall and 5.5 cm kneeling pose with torso bent forward, feet, and the disproportion between known through cuneiform texts from cheek. Rather than representing scars, these statuettes, as heroes, mythic beings or
wide, represents a nude kneeling man the typology of the vessel on his back, the man’s large head and his body the second and first millennium BC however, they clearly indicate the demons, see Vidale 2017, p. 173.
with a bald head and a circular beard. and the fact that he is being attacked all powerfully express the dualism (Winkelmann 2003, 2008). In the last man’s beard, who therefore cannot
On his back he carries a jug whose and devoured by powerful snakes – between naturalism and schematic part of this myth, there appears a man, be classified as one of “the scarred”. References: Morandi Bonacossi 1996, pp.
weight bends his torso forward. Two recur frequently in the statuary, reliefs rigidity that distinguishes the plastic often attacked or partially devoured, Overall, the iconographic evidence 45–80; Morandi Bonacossi 2003, pp. 24–39;
large serpents covered in scales have and engraved gems of southern art of the archaic cultural horizon of carrying a vessel with the plant or of a link between the balafrés figures Winkelmann 2003, pp. 567–678; Winkelmann
swallowed the man’s arms almost to Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau Mesopotamia at the end of the fourth waters of life. Furthermore, a dream and our statuette seems too generic 2008, pp. 39–61; Vidale 2017.
his shoulders; they intertwine behind between the end of the fourth and millennium BC. is described in which snakes wrap and inconsistent to establish a solid
his back, immobilizing him, and wrap beginning of the third millennium BC.1 Regarding the function of the San around a man whose body “vanishes”, connection and place the San Lazzaro
around in two wide circular coils that For example, a man attacked and Lazzaro statuette, the evidence making it impossible to bury him. figure in the context of the artistic

254 255

256 257
figures from balochistan
and the indus

he first cities of the Indus valley civilization were discovered in the first half
of the twentieth century by the excavations John Marshall, Ernest Mackay
and M.S. Vats on the two major sites of Mohenjo-daro in Sindh and Harap-
pa in Punjab, dated from ca. 2500 to 1900 BC. With other contemporary sites like
Chanhu-daro and Amri in Sindh or Lothal and Kalibangan in India, these sites
yielded an impressive number of figurines, mostly in terracotta. The exploration
of the mountains of Balochistan, the Zhob and Loralai valleys at the beginning of
the twentieth century by Aurel Stein, Stuart Piggott or Walter Fairservis discovered
numerous human figurines with “google eyes” which can now be attributed to the
first half of the third millennium. The French Archaeological Mission at Mehrgarh
and Nausharo in the Kachhi plain brought to light an extension of the Indus culture
into the mountains of Balochistan, changing our understanding of the Prehistory in
this part of the subcontinent. An almost continuous sequence from 7000 to the mid
first millennium BC documents the dawn of agro-pastoralism. In this context, the
anthropomorphic figurines are of major importance as ideological and symbolical
Standing female STATUETTE markers. A long tradition of female and males, in clay or terracotta, may be traces
Indus, Balochistan
Mehrgarh VII style (ca. 2700–2500 BC)
Ligabue Collection, Venice
(cat. 100)

Evolution of clay figurines types from
Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age,
Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, Pakistan, VI–III
millennia BC

258 259
from the first Neolithic occupations, where they precede the emergence of pottery,
to the final period of Nausharo (ca. 1900 BC). Most of them are fragmentary and
come from thrash deposits.
The Mehrgarh I-II human figures (ca. 6000 BC) are schematically modelled, with-
out arms, either standing or in a biconical seated position, with pointed head and
legs and a large and flexed central part at the hips. They are often coloured with red
ochre. They often have applied elements, coils, strips or pellets of clay, representing
ornaments, a belt, or a necklace. In the course of time, figurines became more nat-
uralistic, with a pinched nose and legs divided by a cutting. During the Chalcolithic
periods in the Kachi/Bolan area they were produced by the thousands, prototypes
of a long stylistic evolution that endured throughout the fifth and fourth millennium
2 until the end of the third millennium (fig. 1).
Stamp seal depicting the mythical During the Chalcolithic period, from the mid-fourth millennium and during all the
“unicorn” with signs of the yet
undeciphered Indus script
third millennium, the production of figurines became part of the activity of specialized
India-Pakistan ??? potters, using the same clay. There is a tendency towards naturalism, paralleled by
Indus valley culture the increasingly complex ceramic production. Triangular legs and large hips are as
(late III millennium BC)
before the main characteristics, but the successive addition of applied features and
Ligabue Collection, Venice, ornaments give them a less abstract aspect. Legs and arms are separated and new
inv. CL 3015 TENIAMO??? features appear on distinctly male figurines. A new type is introduced at Mehrgarh,
3 with obvious western connections. These “strangers” have a modelled head, plain
“King-priest” wearing a cloak and rounded, almond shaped hollowed eyes, a pointed nose with pierced nostril
decorated with trefoils
and applied ears. The finely shaped body is without any application of ornaments. 
Mohenjo Daro, Pakistan
Indus Valley culture The diffusion of this technique covers as far north as the Quetta valley and Zhob
(late III millennium BC) and Loralai, beyond which eastern limit are zones where the evolution followed a
Low fired steatite
parallel way, like in the Gomal valley. To the west, as at Mundigak, Shahr-i Sokhta
National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi
or Deh Morasi Ghundai, are exports of the end product.
At Nausharo, where the first levels overlap those of Mehrgarh, the production is
still active during the following evolved Indus assemblage (ca. 2400–2100 BC): figu-
rines with stiff legs and wearing skirts as well as “turban” or “fan-like” headdresses,
comparable to those from Harappa or Mohenjo-daro. As in Mehrgarh, the terracotta
figurines from Balochistan continue a stylistic tradition but merge into a new world,
associated with other types, born on the sites of the mature Indus civilization.
The development of the urban civilization of the Indus was in many ways paral-
lel to that of Mesopotamia, but unlike Mesopotamia, there were no images of Indus
rulers building temples or conquering enemies. The stone sculptures showing a
seated male with bag-shaped skirt hiding the legs may represent rulers or elite of the
Indus cities. Crowned with a fillet tied around the head, without weapons or other
symbols of authority held in the hands, it is clear in their stylization and attitude
that the imposing presence of such a figure as the “king-priest” (fig. Mohenjo Daro)
impressed the people of the Oxus.
Following pages
Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro, Bibliography 1998; Jarrige 2005; Jarrige (J.-F.), Jarrige (C.), Quiv-
Pakistan, major centre of the Indus Possehl 1982; Jarrige 1988; Jarrige (C.), Jarrige (J.- ron 2013.
Valley culture F.), Meadow, Quivron 1995; Jarrige 1997; Kenoyer

260 261

262 263

Standing female STATUETTE

Indus, Balochistan
Mehrgarh VII style (ca. 2700–2500 BC)
Terracotta, H. 15 cm, W. 6 cm
Ligabue Collection, Venice

Bibliography: Ligabue, Rossi-Osmida

2006, p. 185.

This terracotta female figurine with a

bald head, thin nose, incised eyes and
eyebrows, broad shoulders, bent arms,
broad hips and straight cylindrical legs
is a rare example of a complete item
of this category. Heads of this type
have been found in numerous sites of
Balochistan, in particular in the Kachhi
plain at Chhalgarhi, associated with a
comparable female fragmentary body,
or at Pirak (unstratified). Many were
excavated at Mehrgarh in level VII B
(ca. 2700 BC), in particular one item
attached to a male torso with broad
shoulders. A carefully modelled female
body found in the same level with a
thin wash covering the applied parts
was associated with one head of this
type. The occurrence of bald-headed
figurines calls to mind the funerary
figurines from Shahdad, from a group
of graves older than those which
belong to the late Bronze, and which
P. Amiet associates with Presargonic
art. There are also striking similarities
with some stone sculptures from
Mesopotamia in the third millennium,
in particular from Tello, Tell Asmar and
Mari. Such parallels foresee the links
which one will try to establish between
the later head of Dabarkot, the
“king-priest” from Mohenjo-daro, the
stone heads found in Helmand and at
Mundigak. The question of exchange
networks – obviously associated
with phenomena of influences and
diffusion from the point of view of
symbolism and ideology – may explain
the emergence of types which, at
Mehrgarh, even if they are part of the
same craft tradition, are linked with
phenomena which can be outlined all
over Middle Asia.

264 265
Rhythm, Variation, Creation

n the course of this voyage, it is hoped that the reader has experienced the haunt-
ing presence of the selected figures, the rhythm of individual bodies, the quasi
musical variations on images, similar but unique. There are exactly a hundred
anthropomorphic and three-dimensional statuettes, schematic or realistic.
Of the many cultures encountered on the way from the Atlantic to India, some
have not been included. Civilizations famous for their figurative art are absent be-
cause their floruit took place long before our time limits, such as Neolithic Malta or
the Balkans, where forceful figures were created as early as the late seventh mil-
lennium (fig. 2). The Levant and Elam (in Southwest Iran) are also absent, for lack
of borrowable pieces. In several cases, the difficulty of borrowing significant pieces
ruled them out: one regrets the absence of ivory figures from the Negev (fig. 3) which
linked predynastic Egypt with the Levant: but these pieces are extremely fragile and
the circulation of ivory is nowadays submitted to strict rules.
Geographic limits, by necessity, had to be drawn. The Atlantic in the west is the
Head of reclining female natural border of the Old World; to the east, the limit might have been pushed to
figure China, along the routes that were to become the Silk Road, millennia later. The Indus,
Late Spedos type
Early Cycladic II period (2700–2300 BC)
Private Collection, Paris
(cat. 20, detail)

Sumerian Lyre player and
banquet guest
Shell, lapis lazuli and colored stones
Detail from the Standard of Ur, Royal
cemetery of Ur, South Mesopotamia,
2600–2400 BC
The British Museum, London

268 269
2 potami living in Egypt and coastal Levant was exported in the Negev (fig. 2), Cyprus
Female figure
and the Greek islands. Tusks from Indian elephant travelled through Central Asia,
Vinça Culture, Romania-Serbia
(V millennium BC) the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf and reached Mesopotamia, alongside lapis
Incised and painted terracotta, lazuli and carnelian stones.
Ligabue Collection, Venice, inv. CL 545
Craftsmen, technologies and ideas travelled long distances along the same routes
3 as the raw materials. Copper alloy artefacts (cat. 76, 91, 92) are evidence of the
Male figure
emergence of metallurgy and the circulation of metallic ores. The arts of vitreous
Bir Es-Safadi, Negev, Israel
3300–3000 BC materials, commonly designated as faience and glass, were developed in Egypt and
Hippopotamus ivory Syria-Mesopotamia, and were adopted by the Oxus civilization (cat. 89, 90 and 98)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
to create vessels, jewellery and figurines.
On the immaterial level, music was an important link between cultures. Complex
musical instruments, like the harp and the lyre, were invented during the third
millennium BC, probably in Mesopotamia: variants were developed across time
and space, as far west as the Cyclades and Greece, as far East as Central Asia and
China. The example on view (cat. 21), a harp player from the Cyclades, is a reminder
of the lost art of sound in the ancient world. Numerous images depicting musicians
and dancers were discovered in Egypt, Mesopotamia or Greece. A few instruments
survive, like the several lyres from the Royal Tombs of Ur, decorated with mosaic
panels and bulls heads, are contemporaries of our Cycladic harp player. Little is
known of the music that was played, but literary sources are rich on the religious and
social circumstances which were accompanied by musical instruments and dancing.
Banquets and formal wine drinking to the accompaniment of music and dance were
held in ancient societies to celebrate special events in the year, holidays, victory
over enemies, and so forth. Dancers would whirl into an ecstatic trance, a condi-
tion assumed to put performers in contact with the gods, as for the mystic whirling
however, midway between the Mediterranean and the Far East, was a major cultural dervishes. The gods, responsible for the creation and harmonious working of the
boundary during the transition period selected here, 4000–2000 BC. cosmos, ruled with Measure. Measure is Number and Rhythm. By achieving rhythm
Some of the questions raised at the beginning, mainly what these far-away cul- in music, men would approach the realms of the gods. In a similar way, the artists
tures may have had in common, have hopefully found answers. One material evi- who constructed the carefully rhythmed figures selected here, using well-balanced
dence is the presence of exotic stones which circulated over great distances during volumes, emulated the gods in the act of Creation.
the period, like lapis lazuli, which exists in only one part of Afghanistan (at least C.A.
for the Old World: other sources are in Latin America). The stone was sought after
on account of its bright blue colour, evocative of the purity of the sky and Heavens,
and was exported to the west for carving jewellery and statuettes: examples from
the Oxus culture (cat.76, 82), Mesopotamia (cat. 70-71), and Egypt (cat. 45) are pre-
sented here. Sources of rock crystal are more numerous than those of lapis lazuli;
nevertheless a number of crystal artefacts were produced in countries where the
stone had to be imported from afar (cat. 61, 72). Obsidian, a natural glass found in
several volcanic regions, was an excellent material to create sharp blades; it was
also used to carve figurines (cat. 60). One major obsidian source is in Anatolia, from
where it was exported during the Neolithic period towards Greece, the Levant and
Egypt; another source is in Sardinia which exported it as far as the Iberian peninsula.
Another raw material which circulated over long distance by land and sea routes is
ivory, taken from the tusks of several species beside the elephant: ivory from hippo-

270 271
Origin of stones mentioned
in the catalogue

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