Cycladic art

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Cycladic sculptures in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Cycladic art encompasses the visual art of the ancient Cycladic civilization, which flourished in the islands of the Aegean Sea from 3300 - 2000 BCE. Along with the Minoans and Mycenaeans, the Cycladic people are counted among the three major Aegean cultures. Cycladic art therefore comprises one of the three main branches of Aegean art.

Neolithic art[edit]

Almost all information known regarding Neolithic art of the Cyclades comes from the excavation site of Saliagos off Antiparos. Pottery of this period is similar to that of Crete and the Greek mainland. Sinclair Hood writes: "A distinctive shape is a bowl on a high foot comparable with a type which occurs in the mainland Late Neolithic".[1]

Early terracotta figurines (2200–2000 BCE)

Cycladic sculptures[edit]

External video
Harp player, Cycladic civilization - Greece.JPG
Harp Player, Early Cycladic period (Bronze age), Smarthistory[2]
Harp Player (early Cycladic II period; Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe)

The best-known art of this period are the marble figures usually called "idols" or "figurines", though neither name is exactly accurate: the former term suggests a religious function which is by no means agreed on by experts, and the latter doesn't properly apply to the largest figures, which are nearly life size. These marble figures are seen scattered around the Aegean, suggesting that these figures were popular amongst the people of Crete and mainland Greece.[3] Perhaps the most famous of these figures are musicians: one a harp-player the other a pipe-player.[4] Dating to approximately 2500 BCE, these musicians are sometimes considered “the earliest extant musicians from the Aegean.”[5]

The majority of these figures, however, are highly stylized representations of the female human form, typically having a flat, geometric quality which gives them a striking resemblance to today's modern art. However, this may be a modern misconception as there is evidence that the idols were originally brightly painted.[6] A majority of the figurines are female, depicted nude, and with arms folded across the stomach, typically with the right arm held below the left. Most writers who have considered these artifacts from an anthropological or psychological viewpoint have assumed that they are representative of a Great Goddess of nature, in a tradition continuous with that of Neolithic female figures such as the Venus of Willendorf.[7] Although some archeologists would agree,[8] this interpretation is not generally agreed on by archeologists, among whom there is no consensus on their significance. They have been variously interpreted as idols of the gods, images of death, children's dolls, and other things. One authority feels they were "more than dolls and probably less than sacrosanct idols." [9]

Female Figure, ca. 3000 B.C.E. Brooklyn Museum

Suggestions that these images were idols in the strict sense—cult objects which were the focus of ritual worship—are unsupported by any archeological evidence.[10] What the archeological evidence does suggest is that these images were regularly used in funerary practice: they have all been found in graves. Yet at least some of them show clear signs of having been repaired, implying that they were objects valued by the deceased during life and were not made specifically for burial. Furthermore, larger figures were sometimes broken up so that only part of them was buried, a phenomenon for which there is no explanation. The figures apparently were buried equally with both men and women.[11] Such figures were not found in every grave.[9] While the idols are most frequently found laid on their backs in graves, larger examples may have been set up in shrines or dwelling places.[12]

Early Cycladic art[edit]

Early Cycladic art is divided into three periods (EC I (2800-2500 BCE), EC II (2500-2200 BCE), and EC III (2200-2000 BCE)), the art is by no means strictly confined to one of these periods, and in some cases, even representative of more than one of the Cycladic islands. The art of EC I is best represented on the islands of Paros, Antiparos, and Amorgos, while EC II is primarily seen on Syros, and EC III on Melos.[13]

Early Cycladic I (Grotta-Pelos Culture, 3300-2700 BC)[edit]

The most important earliest groups are Pelos, Plastiras and Louros. Pelos figurines are of schematic type. Both males and females, in standing position with an head and face, compose the Plastiras type; the rendering is naturalistic but also strangely stylized. The Louros type is seen as transitional, combining both schematic and naturalistic elements. [14][15] Schematic figures are more commonly found and are very flat in profile, having simple forms and lack a clearly defined head. Naturalistic figures are small and tend to have strange or exaggerated proportions, with long necks, angular upper bodies, and muscular legs. [16]

Pelos Type (schematic)[edit]

Plastiras Type (naturalistic)[edit]

The Plastiras type is an early example of Cycladic figurines, named after the cemetery on Paros where they were found. [17] The figures retain the violin-like shape, stance, and folded arm arrangement of their predecessors but differ in notable ways. The Plastiras type is the most naturalistic type of Cycladic figurine, marked by exaggerated proportions. An ovoid head with carved facial features, including ears, sits atop an elongated neck that typically takes up a full third of the figure's total height. [18] The legs were carved separately for their entire length, often resulting in breakages. On female figures the pubic area is demarcated by an incision and the breasts are modeled. Representations of males differ in structure, but not remarkably, possessing narrower hips and carved representations of the male sexual organs. The figures are typically small in size, usually no larger than thirty centimeters, and are not able to stand on their own, as the feet are pointed. Surviving figurines have been carved from marble, but it is suggested by some that they may also have been carved from wood.

Louros Type (schematic and naturalistic)[edit]

The Louros type is a category of Cycladic figurines from the Early Cycladic I phase of the Bronze Age. Combining the naturalistic and schematic approaches of earlier figure styles, the Louros type have featureless faces, a long neck, and a simple body with attenuated shoulders that tend to extend past the hips in width. The legs are shaped carefully but are carved to separation no further than the knees or mid-calves.[18] Though breasts are not indicated, figures of this type are still suggestive of the female form and tend to bear evidence of a carved pubic triangle.

Early Cycladic II (Keros-Syros Culture, 2800-2300 BC)[edit]

Kapsala Variety[edit]

The Kapsala variety is a type of Cycladic figure of the Early Cycladic II period. This variety is often thought to precede or overlap in period with that of the canonical Spedos variety of figures. Kapsala figures differ with the canonical type in that the arms are held much lower in the right-below-left folded configuration and the faces lack sculpted features other than the nose and occasionally ears.[18] Kapsala figures show a tendency of slenderness, especially in the legs, which are much longer and lack the powerful musculature suggested in earlier forms of the sculptures. The shoulders and hips are much narrower as well, and the figures themselves are very small in size, rarely larger than 30cm in length. Evidence suggests that paint is now regularly used to demarcate features such as the eyes and pubic triangle, rather than carving them directly. One characteristic of note of the Kapsala variety is that some figures seem to suggest pregnancy, featuring bulging stomachs with lines drawn across the abdomen. Like other figures of the Early Cycladic II period, the most defining feature of the Kapsala variety is their folded-arm position.

Spedos Variety[edit]

The Spedos type is the most common of Cycladic figures. Typically, it is a slender elongated female with folded arms. It is characterized by a U-shaped head. Also, it has a deeply incised cleft between the legs.

The "Spedos variety", named after an Early Cycladic cemetery on Naxos, is the most prolific category of "canonical" figurines. It has the widest distribution within the Cyclades as well as elsewhere, and the greatest longevity. The group as a whole includes figurines ranging in height from miniature examples of 8 cm. to monumental sculptures of 1.50 m. With the exception of a statue of a male figure, now in the Museum of Cycladic Art Collection, all known works of the Spedos variety are female figures.[19]

Dokathismata Variety[edit]

The Dokathismata type is a Cycladic figure from the end of the Early Cycladic II period of the Bronze Age. With characteristics that are developed from the earlier Spedos variety, the Dokathismata figures feature broad, angular shoulders and a straight profile. Dokathismata figures are considered the most stylized of the folded-arm figures, with a long, elegant shape that displays a strong sense of geometry that is especially evident in the head, which features an almost triangular shape. These figures were somewhat conservatively built compared to earlier varieties, with a shallow leg cleft and connected feet.[18] Despite this, the figures were actually quite fragile and prone to breakage. The return of an incised pubic triangle is also noted in the Dokathismata variety of figures.

Chalandriani Variety[edit]

The Chalandriani variety is a type of Cycladic figure from the end of the Early Cycladic II period of the Bronze Age. Named for the cemetery on the island of Syros on which they were found, these figures are somewhat similar in style and mannerism to the Dokathismata variety that preceded them. Chalandriani figures, however, feature a more truncated shape in which the arms are very close to the pubic triangle and the leg cleft is only indicated by a shallow groove.[18]

One feature of note with the Chalandriani variety is that the strict right-below-left configuration found in previous figures seemed to have relaxed, as some sculptures have reversed arms or even abandonment of the folded position for one or both arms. The reclining position of previous figures is also challenged, as the feet are not always inclined and the legs are somewhat rigid. The shoulders were expanded even further from the Dokathismata variety and were quite susceptible to damage as the upper arms and shoulders are also the thinnest point of the sculpture. The head is triangular or shield-shaped with few facial features other than a prominent nose, connected to the body by a pyramidal-shaped neck. Like figures of the Dokathismata variety, some Chalandriani figures appear to be presented as pregnant. The defining feature of these figures is their bold and exaggerated indication of the shoulders and upper arms.

Koumasa Variety[edit]

Pottery[edit]

The local clay proved difficult for artists to work with, and the pottery, plates, and vases of this period are seldom above mediocre.[13] Of some importance are the so-called ‘frying pans’, which emerged on the island of Syros during the EC II phase. Most scholars believe that these ‘frying pans’ were not used for cooking, but perhaps as fertility charms or mirrors.[20] Some zoological figurines and pieces depicting ships have also been found.

Besides these, other forms of functional pottery have been found. All pottery of early Cycladic civilization was made by hand, and typically was a black or reddish color, though pottery of a pale buff has also been found. The most common shapes are cylindrical boxes, known as pyxides, and collared jars. [21] They are crude in construction, with thick walls and crumbling imperfections, but sometimes feature naturalistic designs reminiscent of the sea-based culture of the Aegan islands.

Cycladic sculptures[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Akrotiri (Santorini) for additional artistic, decorative, and functional items excavated from an ancient cycladic site

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hood 28
  2. ^ "Harp Player, Early Cycladic period (Bronze age)". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved September 8, 2014. 
  3. ^ Doumas, p. 81
  4. ^ Higgins, p. 61
  5. ^ Higgins, p. 60
  6. ^ Getty Museum, past exhibition "Prehistoric Arts of the Eastern Mediterranean"
  7. ^ Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, HarperCollins 1991 p. 203; Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype tr. Ralph Manheim, Princeton University Press, 2nd ed. 1963, p 113.)
  8. ^ J. Thimme, Die Religioese Bedeutung der Kykladenidole, Antike Kunst 8 (9165), pp 72-86
  9. ^ a b Emily Vermeule, Greece in the Bronze Age, University of Chicago Press 1974, p. 52.
  10. ^ L. Marangou, Cycladic Culture: Naxos in the 3rd Millennium BC Athens 1990 p. 101, 141 [sic]
  11. ^ Marangou p. 101
  12. ^ Bothmer, Bernard (1974). Brief Guide to the Department of Egyptian and Classical Art. Brooklyn, NY: The Brooklyn Museum. p. 20. 
  13. ^ a b Higgins 53
  14. ^ "Cycladic Culture". Lake Forest College. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  15. ^ Vianello, Andrea. "Cycladic figurines in funerary rituals". BrozeAge.org. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  16. ^ Cite error: The named reference Fitton was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  17. ^ Getz-Preziosi, Pat (1987). Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. p. 52. 
  18. ^ a b c d e Getz-Gentle, Pat (2001). Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. 
  19. ^ Spedos variety figurine The Museum of Cycladic Art
  20. ^ Higgins 54
  21. ^ ref name="Fitton" [Fitton, J Lesley. Cycladic Art. The Trustees of the British Museum. Italy. 1989. page 22.]

Further reading[edit]

  • Doumas, Christos (1969). Early Cycladic Art. Frederick A. Praeger, Inc.
  • Higgins, Reynold (1967). Minoan and Mycenaean Art. Thames and Hudson.
  • Hood, Sinclair (1978). The Arts in Prehistoric Greece. Penguin Books.

External links[edit]