Neolithic Marble Idol
European, Greek · 5th-4th millennium B.C.
H: 15.3 cm
This superb statuette certainly represents a human figure. Except for the rounded and pronounced buttocks, a characteristic feature of almost all Neolithic female figurines, the sculptor of this piece did not set any accent on a particular sexual element, so it is impossible to determine with certainty if the personage represents a woman or a man.
The legs are not indicated, they are substituted by a stump of some centimeters which constitutes a kind of base to support the torso. The shoulders are thrown back, the clavicles form a V’ which is almost parallel to the outline of the jaw; the modeled arms are folded at the pubis; no detail marks the presence of hands and fingers. The head has a triangular shape with the pointed chin and the long nose in relief; the face is turned upward as if the figure looks at the sky. Two lateral notches probably mark the ears. The top of the crane is flat, its back part is a bump inclined backward. It is not possible to determine if the absence of many anatomical details (pubis, breasts, legs), which certainly reflects the sculptor’s deliberate choice, is simply due to the severe stylization or to the necessity to represent the personage dressed in a long tunic or skirt.
The structure of the piece is very clear: the entire figurine is installed in a tube which section is not circular but rather elliptic. In the composition, where the frontal view dominates, the lateral and back ones are not neglected, they are also well modeled; thus the work obtains carefully rendered volumes. Clarity and simplicity became principal characteristics of this piece, it is seen in the proportions (the head is too big, the neck is short and thick, the arms are too long, and the legs are too short) and in the formal schematization. In the same time, these elements make look the piece modern and very interesting for the eye of the contemporary viewer.
No exact parallel could be found for this statuette, especially because its particular form of the lower part: during the Neolithic period the idols, comparable in type and style, were fabricated in the vast region from the Balkans (where the figurines are exclusively made in terracotta) to Greece and Anatolia, regions where figurines sculptured in stone (marble) are very frequent. These are especially the Balkan terracottas (Vinca culture) which presents the elements close to this piece: the triangular head, the legs-base (where the incised line often indicates the skirt). In Greece and particularly in Anatolia the schematic steatopyg types are largely dominant, and similar pointed form of the head is well attested.
As for its chronology, this statuette belongs to the last phase of the Neolithic period, however, the absence of directs comparisons does not let to propose a more precise dating: it is to be dated to the 5th or the 4th millennium B.C.
Art market, prior to 1994;
Ex- European private collection, imported into the US in 1994.
GIMBUTAS M., The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, Berkeley, 1982, pls. 24-25, 33, 98, 120-121.
PAPATHANASSOPOULOS G., Neolithic and Cycladic Civilisation, Athens, 1981.
PAPATHANASSOPOULOS G.et al., Neolithic Culture in Greece, Athens, 1996, p. 144.
THIMME J., ed., Art and Culture of the Cyclades, 1976, nos. 4, 24-25.
TREUIL R. et al., Les civilisation égéennes du Néolithique et de l’Age du Bronze, Paris, 1989.
VON BOTHMER D., ed., Glories of the Past, Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, 1990, pp. 13-15.
The J. P. Getty Museum
Los Angeles, California
The Cleveland Museum of Art