Lady of Elche

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Lady of Elche

The Lady of Elche or Lady of Elx (Spanish: Dama de Elche, IPA: [ˈdama ðe ˈeltʃe]; Valencian: Dama d'Elx, IPA: [ˈdama ˈðɛʎtʃ]) is a once polychrome stone bust that was discovered by chance in 1897 at L'Alcúdia, an archaeological site on a private estate about two kilometers south of Elx/Elche, Alicante (autonomous community of Valencia), Spain. The Lady of Elche is generally believed to be a piece of Iberian sculpture from the 4th century BC, though the artisanship suggests strong Hellenistic influences.[1] According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the Lady of Elche (Roman Illici), is conjectured as having a direct association with Tanit, the goddess of Carthage, who was worshiped by the Punic-Iberians.[2]


The originally polychrome bust is usually thought to represent a woman wearing a very complex headdress and large wheel-like coils (known as rodetes) on each side of the face. The aperture in the rear of the sculpture indicates it may have been used as a funerary urn.

Detail of the Lady of Elche

The Lady of Guardamar is a closely similar female bust, 50 cm high, also dated circa 400 BCE, that was discovered in fragments in the Phoenician archaeological site of Cabezo Lucero in Guardamar del Segura in Alicante province, Spain, in 1987.[3] The Lady of Guardamar has similar wheel-like rodetes and necklaces.

While it is a bust, there are proposals that it was part of a seated statue like the Lady of Baza or a standing one like the Gran Dama Oferente from Cerro de los Santos (Montealegre del Castillo, Albacete). The necklaces with their pendants are closely similar to those found on the Lady of Baza, discovered about 130 miles to the south west.

The three figures and the Bicha of Balazote are exhibited in the same hall in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid.


Color reconstruction by Francisco Vives

The sculpture was found in August 4, 1897 by a young worker, Manuel Campello Esclapez. This "popular" version of the story differs from the official report by Pere Ibarra (the local keeper of the records) which stated that Antonio Maciá found the bust.

Pierre Paris, a French archaeological connoisseur, purchased the sculpture within a few weeks and shipped it to France, where it was shown at the Louvre Museum and hidden for safe-keeping during World War II.

The Vichy government negotiated with Franco's government its return to Spain in 1940–41, and on June 27, 1941 the sculpture was placed in the Museo del Prado (Madrid), then moved to the National Archaeological Museum, where it remains.

The discovery of the Lady of Elche initiated a popular interest in pre-Roman Iberian culture. She appeared on a 1948 Spanish one-peseta banknote and was mentioned in William Gaddis's The Recognitions (1955).

The sculpture was temporarily on display from May 18 to November 1, 2006 at the Museo Arqueológico y de Historia de Elche, where it is now represented by a replica.[4][5]

Place of discovery[edit]

It was discovered on 4 August 1897. The farm workers were conducting clearing the southeast slope of the hill of La Alcudia, for agricultural purposes.

Where the bust of the Dama was discovered is now a archaeological site where have been discovered over the years numerous pieces of great value, Iberian and Roman, testimonies of those civilizations . It have discovered an Iberian-Punic settlement, Roman sewer, mosaics, walls and Roman houses and to the ground, a mosaic and a lamp with an effigy of Saint Abdon, belonging to a Christian basilica who It of the 5th century. The latter archaeological evidence is supported by the codices of the councils of Toledo where it talk about the audience bishops from Illici (Elche).


Dr. Campello, owner of the farm, was married to Asunción Ibarra, daughter of Aureliano Ibarra Manzoni, a humanist of 19th century who also was dedicated to the archeology as a hobby and had been finding a lot of objects and Iberian vestiges in their own farmland and in more places in the municipality of Elche. This had built up a valuable collection bequeathed to his daughter Asunción, along with instructions that after her death, she made the necessary arrangements for the collection offered for sale to the Real Academia de la Historia to finally be located at the National Archaeological Museum. It was said in the will that the collection it sold in its entirety.

In Elche everyone knew the find and was a topic of conversation. The family friends came to visit to the house but other people could do the same, so in an act of generosity, the Lady was exposed on the balcony for it to be provided by all local residents.

Arrived in August to be held during the 14th and 15th the Mystery Play of Elche. Don Pedro Ibarra had invited to his home to see this festival the French archaeologist Pierre Paris. When the archaeologist saw the Iberian bust knew that this was a real gem and reported to the responsibles for the Louvre to Paris, who responded immediately by offering a large sum of money: 4000 francs at the time . Despite the opposition of Doña Asuncion, the Iberian bust was sold and the August 30, 1897 the sculpture went well packaged towards the French capital. For 40 years the Dama de Elche was exhibited at the Louvre. After the start of the World War II in 1939 and as a precaution, was transferred to the castle of Montauban near Toulouse, in the south of France, place safer than the French capital.

In 1941 it got it back through an exchange of works with the Vichy government of Marshal Pétain, an extremely unbalanced agreement (in favor of Spain), which also included the Immaculate Conception of the Venerables or Immaculate of Soult (for the French Marshal that it stole) of Murillo from twin sphinxes of El Salobral who were, like The Lady owned of the Louvre and several pieces of Treasure of Guarrazar, belonged to Musée national du Moyen Âge), in addition to the remains of Iberian sculptures of Osuna. In return gave to France a portrait of Mariana of Austria of Velázquez, of which the Prado had another almost identical version (was transferred the version considered inferior, for some it is even just a copy shop), and a work of El Greco of El Greco Museum of Toledo, one of Antonio de Covarrubias portrait of the two that had the museum [6]

Therefore, the Lady is actually owned by the Museo del Prado (catalog number E433), where it remained for 30 years since it returned to Spain until in 1971 it was transferred to the National Archaeological Museum, where it is in deposit condition.[7] Meanwhile, in 1965 the Dama de Elche comeback to Elche land again on the occasion of seventh centenary of Mystery of Elche.

The Minister of Culture of Spain, Carmen Calvo, issued on January 19, 2006 the decision to temporarily lease the Lady to its hometown. From this moment began the process that culminated on May 18, 2006, in the 'Dama de Elche' 'presided over the inauguration of the Museum of Archaeology and History of Elche (in the Palace of Altamira) and the exhibition "From Ilici to Elx, 2500 years of history" that took place in different locations in the city.

Claim of forgery[edit]

The Lady of Baza, another Iberian "lady" bust

In 1995, John F. Moffitt, an art historian specializing in painting,[8] published Art Forgery: The Case of the Lady of Elche, University Press of Florida, in which he contended that the statue was a forgery with similarities to symbolist art of the Belle Époque. He put forth a speculation concerning the identity of the forger and commissioner, "a physician and resident surgeon in the town of Elche" who was "well informed about the current state of Iberian studies" and owned "the fertile archaeological site of La Alcúdia".

Experts in Spanish archaeology have rejected Moffitt's theory and accept the Lady of Elche as a genuine ancient Iberian work. Antonio Uriarte of the University of Madrid has stated, "Decade by decade, research has reinforced the coherence of the Lady within the corpus of Iberian sculpture. The Lady was found more than a century ago, and many of its features, not then understood, have been confirmed by subsequent finds. For example, the use of paint in Iberian sculpture was unknown when the Lady appeared."[9] A CSIC study on the Lady of Elche's micropigmentation published in 2005 concluded that the trace pigments on the statue were consistent with ancient materials and that no modern pigments had been found.[10]

In 2011, the same author María Pilar Luxán[11] analyzed microparticles back hole of the Dama de Elx with techniques of electron microscopy and X-ray dispersive spectrometry, among others. Deduced that belong to ashes of human bones, it compared with those of the Iberian period and concluded that the statue was used as funerary urn in Iberian time, guaranteeing thus its antiquity and confirming the hypothesis about its function.

In modern culture[edit]

French artist James Tissot based figures in several of his turn-of-the-century paintings on the recently discovered Lady of Elche.[12]

Jephthah's Daughter by James Tissot, based on the Lady of Elche

The Dama de Elche makes an appearance in Part 3 of William Gaddis' masterpiece The Recognitions, where the main protagonist asks for a fresh one peseta note to study the engraving of the lady on it.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Francisco Vives Boix, La Dama de Elche en el año 2000 : Análisis tecnológico y artístico [1].
  2. ^ The Encyclopedia of Religion, Macmillan Library Ref. USA - Iberian Religion - page 549
  3. ^ [2] Historia Guardamar
  4. ^ Facsimile of the Dama de Elche executed by Adam Lowe's studio Factum Arte in Madrid (2002-2005) accessed 14 November 2014
  5. ^ Museo Arqueológico y de Historia de Elche (MAHE), accessed 14 November 2014
  6. ^ Prado. "Encyclopedia of the Prado/Timeline museum/1941". Retrieved April 28, 2009. 
  7. ^ Prado Museum. "Enciclopedia On-Line/Dama de Elche (anonymous)". Retrieved April 29, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Jack Moffitt, 1940-2008". 
  9. ^ R. Olmos and T. Tortosa, in Gocha R. Tsetskhladze (ed.), Ancient Greeks West and East, Leiden: Brill, 1999, brief summary here [3]
  10. ^ M. P. Luxán, J. L. Prada, F. Dorrego, 2005, "Dama de Elche: pigments, surface coating and stone of the sculpture", Materials and structures, 38(277), pp. 419-424. [4] See also [5]
  11. ^ Luxán, Mª P. et al (2011). Human bone ashes found in the Dama de Elche (V-IV century B.C.) reveal its use as an ancient cinerary urn. Journal of Cultural Heritage vol. 12, issue 3, pp. 310-316.
  12. ^ "Picture - The BAS Library".