The Cyclades, an archipelago in the southwestern Aegean, comprises thirty-nine small islands and many more islets. In ancient Greek they were referred to as the kyklades, envisioned as a circle (kuklos) around the sacred island of Delos, home to the most sacred temple of Apollo.
In the fourth millennium B.C. a distinctive culture emerged in the islands which ran for over two thousand years. Existing largely tangentially with the great civilisations of the Minoans and Mycenaeans, Cycladic people are counted among the three major Aegean cultures.
It was the Cycladic people who produced the very first masterpieces of Greek marble sculpture. “Idols” such as the present example were spread throughout the archipelago, with the tradition of carving such figures lasting for well over one thousand years. Their exact use is unclear, some resemble fertility figures encountered across the Near East. Others have been interpreted as images of the deceased or servants for the afterlife. It is clear however that they were used in both funerary contexts and day-to-day ritual life, as some have been found with ancient repairs.
Though they are today notable for their minimalist appearance, scientific analysis has shown that the surface of the marble would originally have been painted with mineral-based pigments, azurite for blue and iron ores or cinnabar for red. Many of the figures show a remarkable similarity in their proportions, suggesting that the production of these idols was regulated using a type of early compass.
The present piece is a wonderful example of the type, though carved over four thousand years ago its geometric appeal remains distinctly modern.
Lyon & Turnbull offers four auctions of Antiquities annually; with sculpture from ancient Greece and Rome placed into biannual dedicated sections of our Five Centuries sales and Fine Antiquities offered in our biannual Form Through Time editorial sales. This ensures that the broad range of Antiquities offered at Lyon and Turnbull each reach the correct market.