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Neolithic Idol

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: Neolithic, Balkan
: 5th – 4th millennium B.C.
: Marble
: H: 25.0 cm (9.8 in)

Ex- José Denis private collection, Switzerland, acquired in the 1990’s.


Complete; an ancient chip on the left “ear” and left arm; the tip of the right arm and tip of the feet are eroded; a few ancient scratches and traces of tool; deposits in places, especially inside and around the “ears”.


This abstract female figurine, a highly attractive and very rare example of the European sculpture in the round, belongs to the Neolithic period. The material used for the execution and considerably large size qualify the artwork as far superior to the typical small clay or bone figurines. Only an advanced craftsman could understand the technical and aesthetic properties of carving marble; the amount of time that is consumed in working with the material is a testament to the value and appreciation of the artist’s accomplishment.

The composition consists of three parts: the head, upper and lower parts of the body, their dimensions are not equal but correlated in proportions. The design combines both schematic and naturalistic shapes of a human body; the integration of the elements is important for the artistic result. Only a pair of circular perforations on each side (ears) and a vertical protrusion in the middle (nose) mark the face features of the discoid head. The neck receives a sculptural volume and connects the schematic head with the beautifully sculptured torso of a very slim waist, delicate rounded breasts and short struts which substitute the arms. The emphasis on the breasts in the sculpture’s concept let to eliminate the actual forms of the arms. The triangular shape of the arm struts is repeated in the forms of the hips. The herringbone pattern of grooves covers a large pubic triangular, which marks the center of the body composition. Again, the linear pattern is combined with the three-dimensional shape of the lower body. The exaggerated form of the pubic triangular, along with the breasts, refer to a concept of a young, healthy female person whose reproductive qualities were regarded as most important.

The legs are not divided and form a unique, narrowing conical shape, which, at the same time, becomes the object’s support. It comfortably fits the owner’s hand, and it could be imagined that the figurine (which cannot stand on its own and does not have a base) was designed to be hold and probably manipulated in a ritual. A perfectly smoothen surface of stone provokes a tactile appeal, while the decorative ornamentation creates a visual attractiveness.

If the ear perforations have been used for the suspension of the object, it is not clear. It has been suggested that the holes drilled on the face could have received copper or gold earrings as important offerings. This stresses the idea that the marble figurine (definitely belonging to the category of luxury objects in today’s qualification) was thought to have powers, and the change of decorative elements could be part of its employment. In this way, owning the figurine indicated the status of a person as a high-ranking member of the human community. The figurine could have the function of an amulet and served to protect the owner.

Among the surviving figurines of similar style and composition found in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, marble figurines are extremely rare. The fragmentary marble anthropomorphic figurine in the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum has less developed form and is essentially two-dimensional. The clay figurines of the Cucuteni culture (mostly Romania) were modeled with more sense of three-dimensionality. The perforations and incisions employed for the details remain typical for the design of Neolithic bone figurines, of which the closest examples are the artworks in the Museum of Stara Zagora, Bulgaria.


BAILEY D. W., The Figurines of Old Europe, in ANTHONY D. W., ed., The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC, New York, Princeton, Oxford, 2010, pp. 113-127, nos. 4, 12, 29, 30.

CAUBET A., ed., Idols: The Power of Images, Venice, 2018.

The First Civilization in Europe and the Oldest Gold in the World, Varna, Bulgaria, Isetan Museum of Art, 1982, nos. 23, 442. Musée National Stara Zagora, Sofia, 1965, pl. 7.

PAPATHANASSOPOULOS G., ed., Neolithic Culture in Greece, Athens, 1996, p. 295-296, no. 197.

TODOROVA Kh., The Eneolithic period in Bulgaria in the fifth millennium B.C., Oxford, 1978, pl. 12, fig. 6; pl. 14, figs. 3-4.

ТОДОРОВА Х., Каменно-медната епоха в България (пето хилядолетие преди новата ера), София, 1986, pp. 196-206; figs.119 a-b, 127, 140, 143-144, 182.

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Neolithic Idol