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Female figure from Franchthi cave in clay

Stone Age Greek sculpture: Clay female figure from Franchthi cave

When was the earliest Greek sculpture?

As in other parts of Europe, the earliest sculptures from Greece are small figurines molded out of clay or carved out of limestone , about 5-10 inches tall.

What is limestone?
Stone Age art in Northern Europe
West Asian Stone Age art
Greece in the Stone Age
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A Cycladic figurine in marble

A Cycladic figurine in marble

What did they depict?

Most of these statues are of women, and the women are generally very fat. They have big thighs and big breasts. Archaeologists call them “steatopygous” figurines, which means they have big butts. Possibly these figurines served some sort of religious purpose, maybe as fertility charms to make the crops grow.

Early farming
Women in ancient Greece

What is Cycladic sculpture?

But that’s not the only kind of sculpture from the Stone Age. There’s another kind from later in the Stone Age. They come from the Cyclades islands, between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea.

What is marble?
Metamorphic rock

Sculptors there carved tall, lifesize white marble statues of people. They made more small figurines as well. People probably wanted them mainly to put in people’s graves.

Why were they all white and ghostly?

Cycladic flute player (now in Athens)

Cycladic flute player (now in Athens)

They were originally painted so they didn’t look blank like this – they had painted on eyes and mouths and maybe also clothes. They looked more like department store mannequins – painted – than like white statues.

When did they stop making these?

Some carvings were also smaller, a foot or two high. This is a marble Cycladic figurine of a man playing a flute – or anyway, some kind of pipes, like a double recorder.

Greek musical instruments
More about Greek music

But during the Bronze Age that followed, the Greeks didn’t make marble sculptures anymore.

Learn by doing: make a clay figurine and then paint it to look real
More about Bronze Age Greek sculpture

Bibliography and further reading about Stone Age sculpture in Greece:

Greek Art and Archaeology (3rd Edition), by John G. Pedley (2002) A lot of good information and is pretty readable. Plus, the author is really an expert in this field.

Early Cycladic Sculpture: An Introduction, by Pat Getz-Preziosi (1994). Published by the Getty Museum.

Deities, Dolls, and Devices: Neolithic Figurines from Franchthi Cave, Greece, by Lauren E. Talalay (1993). By a specialist, for specialists.

GIFT IDEA: A stone Cycladic Figurine of your very own. List Price: $55!

More about Bronze Age Greek sculpture
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