‘Masterful’: A rare Cycladic figure from the 3rd Millennium B.C.

Specialist Laetitia Delaloye discusses a mysterious 4,000-year-old marble figure, offered in our Antiquities sale at Christie’s London on 6 July

Cycladic sculptures are mysterious marble figures that first appeared at the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C., made in the Cyclades Islands in Greece,’ says specialist Laetitia Delaloye, introducing an exceptional example dating from circa 2500-2400 B.C. which will feature in Christie’s Antiquities sale on 6 July.

Although little is known about the figures, they are thought to have held huge significance for their original owners. Discovered in tombs, they have features that often connote fertility, or suggest a religious function. ‘They are enigmatic because we don’t know exactly why they were made,’ explains Delaloye. 

A large Cycladic marble female figure, late Spedos variety, circa 2500-2400 B.C. Estimate £300,000-500,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 6 July at Christie’s in London, King Street
A large Cycladic marble female figure, late Spedos variety, circa 2500-2400 B.C. Estimate: £300,000-500,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 6 July at Christie’s in London, King Street

‘This piece is very rare because it’s one of the largest examples that exists,’ she continues, pointing out ‘ghost’-like traces of paint, absorbed by the stone, which indicate that the figure was once richly coloured. ‘The figure holds her stomach, suggesting a link with maternity.’

If the exact function of Cycladic figures remains unclear, so, too, do the methods that led to their creation. ‘No one knows how they were made because no tools have been found,’ Delaloye points out. ‘To have achieved something like this 4,600 years ago is masterful’.