LARGE CYCLADIC TORSO
Cycladic art arose from a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, most notable Melos, Naxos, Paros, Tenos and Andros. Aside from their rock-cut tombs, very little Cycladic architecture survives; however, many mysterious carved marble idols do survive – no two alike, ranging from several cm, to life size. The task of crafting such a hard material in to such fine and smooth shapes as we see with this idol, would have been extremely arduous and required great skill and knowledge.
The apex of Cycladic art comes from the Early Helladic II Period (2,500-2,200 BC.), during which this fine example was made. Cut from a single thin rectangular slab of marble using tools of bone and copper, the artists knew of the material’s fragility, and therefore began to leave out all but essential detail in portraying form so not as to split the marble. The final result is this sleek, abstract style we see here, which came to dominate figurative idol making for thousands of years.
This figure is of the Spedos type, which are characterised by backwards leaning oval heads, prominent noses, long tube-like necks, downwards sloping shoulders leading to arms tightly crossed in front of the abdomen, truncated with one on top of the other and slender hips that turn in to legs which bend at the knee. Many theories have advanced to explain the function of these idols – they have been found in graves alongside the deceased, but also in domestic situations. They may have been servants of the dead, substitutes for sacrifice, ancestor idols or even toys. Others suggest that they are particularly stylised interpretations of the Stone Age ‘Mother Goddess’ figure. Originally painted with facial features on the marble it has even been suggested they represent funeral mourners, as the statues bright red cheeks could represent the traditional scratched and beaten faces of the mourners. Whatever their function, these early Bronze Age people left no clues, so it will never be fully know, adding to their enigmatic and idiosyncratic mystery.
A Marble idol in the British Museum of the Spedos type and of almost exactly the same exists, however there are noticeable differences in the depth of the carving, and the degree of the angles. Whilst very clearly belonging to the same group, no two were exactly the same, suggesting they may have been made to order, and with a specific representation or purpose in mind. The size may have also been an indicator of the owner’s wealth. The damage to both highlights the fragility at the point of neck and knee in such objects, whilst also signifying the importance of this example as a museum quality piece. Early statues such as these helped inspire 20th century art movements such as cubism and abstraction, and have been considered historical works of modern art for their radically inventive forms.
 P.G Preziosi; Early Cycladic Sculpture; An Introduction, Revised Edition, Getty Publications, 1995, p.50.
 C.F.C Hawkes; The Prehistoric Foundations of Europe to the Mycenean Age, Routledge, 2014, p.89.
 Carved female marble Cycladic Idol, British Museum, London, Spedos type, 2700-2300 BC., H: 24 cm, 1904.0605.4.
With Nicholas Koutalakis, Switzerland, since at least 1969.
In the collection of Simone de Monbrison, Paris, acquired from the above in 1969.
Thence by descent.
Subsequently in the Barbier-Mueller museum, Geneva, 1994.
Deaccessioned from the above in 2007 (accompanied by French cultural Passport 175370).
Barbier-Mueller museum, Geneva 1994-2007.
A.D. Marmo; Sculture Cicladiche del Museo Barbier-Mueller, 1994, no.27.
David Aaron, 2017.