Cycladic Marble Torso of an Idol

Greek · Early Cycladic II, ca. 2600-2500 B.C.




H: 20.7 cm (8.1 in)





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The statuette, with slightly protruding breasts and lines of the pubic triangle emphasizing her femininity, belongs to the group of Cycladic “idols” usually represented nude and standing upright, legs slightly bent, arms clasped on the belly, the head tilted backwards, and the face (on which the nose only is sculpted) featuring a regular, oval shape. This piece, although fragmented, is especially attractive thanks to its artistic qualities. It demonstrates a very delicate manner of carving and a fine sense of stone itself: one cannot miss how beautifully the natural veins of marble suit the shape of the human body.

The elegant and smooth proportions are also emphasized by thin linear incisions or by slightly roundedvolumes, which express other anatomical details: base of the neck, spine, lower buttocks, and fingers. The deep notch between the legs shows a thin, elongated opening between the thighs. Typologically, this is a beautiful example of a canonical FAF (Folded-Arms Figure) statuette. It belongs to the so-called Early “Spedos” variety, which represents the highest level of prehistoric Cycladic sculpture, towards the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C.

Nowadays, prehistoric Cycladic art is famous mostly for these statuettes, whose design is both simple and attractive. Despite the strong beauty and seductive power, they convey to the modern artistic taste, these figurines still keep many secrets, since their real purpose remains unknown. 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, or figures enabling or helping the transition to the afterlife, etc.; other scholars connect them with the Great Mother, a  goddess of procreation and fertility, worshiped from the Neolithic in the Near East, in Anatolia and in Central Europe.

Behind their remarkable unity of style, these statuettes probably hide various purposes that cannot be clearly understood today. According to P. Getz-Gentle, recent studies on their polychrome decoration allow us to attribute to them a more active role than previously thought: these figures would probably have embodied a protective being, definitely feminine and maternal (related to a sort of a patron saint), who commanded 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.


Surface cleaned with minor remains of soil deposits; an ancient scratch on the chest.


Art market, prior to 1970s;

Ex- Galerie Serodine, Ascona, Switzerland, early 1970’s;

Ex- V. K. collection, Germany and Switzerland, collected in 1974.


GETZ-GENTLE P., Panorama de l’art des Cyclades , in CAUBET A., ed., Zervos et l’art des Cyclades , Vézelay, 2001, pp. 17-39.

GETZ-PREZIOSI P., Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections , Richmond, Virginia, 1987, pp. 160 ff., nos. 34 ff.

THIMME J., ed., Art and Culture of the Cyclades , Chicago, 1977, pp. 253-283, 459-480, nos. 130-213.