Cycladic Marble Idol of the Dokathismata Type
second half of the 3rd millennium B.C. (ca. 2400-2100 B.C.)
H: 21 cm
Figurine carved from a very thin and narrow piece of white fine-grained marble. Typologically, this is a beautiful example, albeit small in size, of a canonical “FAF (Folded-Arms Figure)” statuette, among the most famous artistic manifestations of Cycladic art in the Early Bronze Age.
The female figure is characterized by an elegant and slender silhouette; the outlines are stylized, and the body is composed of simple geometrical shapes. The head, supported by the cylindrical neck, is triangular and tilted backwards at the top, with a long straight and prominent nose, below which a horizontal line represents the mouth. The torso is rectangular, but the shoulders are sloping; the widely spread breasts are barely visible and the abdomen shows no trace of pregnancy. The exceedingly long legs terminate in two small feet with rounded tips, without any visible indication of the toes. Apart from the knees, indicated by slight curves, and the buttocks, indicated by a horizontal projection on the lower back, the other anatomical details are expressed only by incisions: the rectangular arms, the triangular pubis, the legs separated by a simple vertical notch.
The position of the feet does not allow the statuette to stand upright on its own.
FAF statuettes are classified, according to stylistic criteria, into five groups that differ mainly in their proportions and sizes. Our example belongs to the so-called Dokathismata type. Compared to the statuettes of the Spedos type, the most common and renowned version (characterized by finely modeled and somewhat rounded shapes), the statuettes of the Dokathismata type have a definitely slenderer silhouette, sometimes angular, but whose general appearance conveys an impression of formal elegance. As demonstrated by our example, even the elements related to sexuality and fertility – whose great importance in the iconography of women in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods is attested by the voluptuous and generous shapes – are represented in a stylized and simple manner.
The more linear silhouettes and the absence of any modeling compared to the Spedos type are probably indications in favor of a later dating; figurines of the Dokathismata type are generally dated to the second half of the 3rd millennium B.C., approximately between 2400 and 2100 B.C.
Despite the strong beauty and seductive power that they convey to the modern artistic taste, prehistoric Cycladic crafts, and marble statuettes in particular, still remain enigmatic as regards their use(s). These “idols” (which come almost exclusively from necropolises, when the location of their discovery is known) have been successively seen as concubines for the deceased, mourners, substitutes for human sacrifices, nurses for the deceased, representations of revered ancestors, toys to be taken to the afterlife, figures enabling or helping the transition to the afterlife, etc.; other scholars connect them with the Great Mother, a goddess of procreation and fertility, worshipped from the Neolithic in the Near East, in Anatolia and in Central Europe.
In the light of the recent specific studies on their polychrome decoration, some scholars are formulating new ideas on the meaning of these statuettes. It seems that, behind their remarkable unity of style, these figurines probably conceal various purposes that cannot be clearly understood today. According to P. Getz-Gentle, the discoveries on the use of color allow us to attribute to them a more active role than previously thought. Such “idols” – scientific research proves that their polychromy was regularly completed or restored – seem to have been linked to fundamental stages of the life of their owner, as if they had accompanied him throughout his life. They would have embodied a protective being, definitely feminine and maternal (related to a sort of a patron saint, according to P. Getz-Gentle), commanding natural phenomena and events that were most often inexplicable to the ancients: the cycle of life, the astronomical phenomena, the seasonal cycle and the fertility of the land, the sea, etc.
Other scholars think, on comparing the role played by some divine representations in other civilizations, that these Cycladic statuettes would have played an intermediary role between the believer/owner of the “idol” and the deity, like a kind of medium allowing, at certain stages of life, humans to enter into contact with a superior being.
Complete figurine in excellent condition, though reglued (neck, upper legs, ankles); surface slightly worn, small holes.
Art market, prior to 1980;
Ex-Ernst Kaifel Collection, Germany, 1970-1980;
Gorny & Mosch, Munich, 29 June 2011, lot 8
Gorny & Mosch, Munich, 29 June 2011, lot 8
DOUMAS C.G., Early Cycladic Culture: The N.P. Goulandris Collection, Athens, 2000, pp. 42-49, pp. 162-165, nos. 232-237.
GETZ-PREZIOSI P. (ed.), Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections, Richmond (Virginia), 1987, pp. 210-216.
THIMME J. (ed.), Kunst der Kykladen, Karlsruhe, 1975, nos. 214-220.
On the meaning of such figurines, see:
GETZ-GENTLE P., Panorama de l’art des Cyclades, in CAUBET A. (ed.), Zervos et l’art des Cyclades, Vézelay, 2001, pp. 17-39.
Kykladen: Lebenswelten einer frühgriechischen Kultur, Karlsruhe, 2011, pp. 184-204.