Art History / Archaeology / Classics

Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture
Pat Getz-Gentle
Wisconsin Studies in Classics

List of Illustrations
List of Maps, Checklists, Charts, and Tables
CHAPTER 1 Before the Arms Were Folded: Cycladic Sculpture from the Late Neolithic through the Transitional Early Cycladic I/II Phase
CHAPTER 2 The Reclining Folded-Arm Figure and Its Varieties:
Cycladic Sculpture of the Early Cycladic II Period
CHAPTER 3 Sculptors of Early Cycladic I Plastiras Figures
CHAPTER 4 Sculptors of Early Cycladic II Reclining Folded-Arm Figures
CHAPTER 5 Pattern and Precision: Taking the Measure of Early Cycladic II
Spedos Variety Figures, by Jack de Vries
Checklists of Twenty Sculptors
Notes on the Plates
Notes on the Text Figures
Illustration Sources
Illustration Credits

From Chapter 1, page 26 to 28

Our last precanonical female figure is of considerable interest in its own right and also for its alleged associations (pl. 20). Like the sculptures illustrated in the previous plates, this work still shows a keen attention to the volumes and shapely curves of a strong, well-muscled woman, noticeable especially in profile, yet there is also an emphasis on modeling. As in the work of the figure-maker illustrated in plates 18 and 19, this artist took special pains to carve the arms, which are executed in unusually high rounded relief. The viewer is clearly meant to focus on them. And yet the hands are strangely clumsy, and the arms, although folded, appear slack and awkward. I suspect that when he fashioned this work, this very talented sculptor was not in the habit of carving images with folded arms. Quite possibly, like the Kanellopoulos Museum Sculptor, he went on to produce more confident renderings, perhaps with the arms in what was to become the conventional position, with the right one below the left. In any event, the left-below-right positioning seen on this figure (along with the protruding elbows) suggests that sculptors were still experimenting with the idea of folding the arms and that the arrangement had not yet become the rule by any means. Once it did, early in EC II, the left-below-right orientation of the arms is extremely rare until the latest variety of the folded-arm figure.

The figure is likely to be from the same source as the harp player illustrated in plate 21. 48 A pre-canonical work that has generated much discussion and controversy over the years, it is the earliest representation in marble of a rare occupational type now numbering eleven examples that I at least regard as genuine. Of these, ten were carved in the Kapsala and Early Spedos styles of the first half of EC II (see table I; pl. 26e; fig. 16d).49 The question that springs to mind, given the accompanying information, is: could one sculptor possibly have made both works? This is by no means easy to answer. Despite the very obvious stylistic differences, one cannot overlook the fact that the two compositions are nearly identical in height and that both are large for precanonical sculptures. They are also unusually well preserved: the female figure is unbroken; the male representation is complete-one of only two of the eleven examples of its type in such excellent condition.

On both works the neck is unusually short, and the basic head shape is similar, although the female's head does not bend back near the top as much as the heads of most other precanonical works. The facial features were possibly quite similar, too, although the female lacks ears, and unfortunately its face is quite weathered, making the eyes and mouth less distinct than they once were. The eyes of the harp player, on the other hand, are made more conspicuous by the vestiges of paint preserved in the grooves, and also by accretions that formed subsequent to the burial of the work.

Perhaps the most striking point of similarity is the presence of slim cutouts separating the arms from the torso on the female figure, and the frame from the backrest of the harp player's chair.50 And if one compares the rear of the two sculptures (pl. 22), there is also a clear resemblance between the outline of the female's back and that of the inner contours of the chairback. Remarkably, the width of the back, between the inner lines of the cutouts (at about the midpoint of their height), differs on the two pieces by only 5 mm. Such a coincidence would not have occurred intentionally, yet I believe it is more likely to have occurred in the work of the same sculptor than in the work of different sculptors. So, too, the overall height of the composition in each case would not have been made the same con-sciously, but it seems natural to suppose that that was a comfortable size for that particular craftsman to work in.

Looking at the two figures closely once again, one is struck particularly by the contrast in the treatment of the arms and hands and of the legs and feet. On the harp player the arms and hands, complete with fingernails, are remarkably-and, for some, disturbingly-realistic; on the female figure the opposite is true. On the harp player the legs and feet are much less dramatically shaped and detailed than the arms and hands: there is little indication of musculature in the calves, and the toes are simple grooves, very different from the deeply cut fingers that stand out on the harp frame, clearly distinguished from each other in sharp relief. Whereas the arms and hands, with their thumbs carved completely in the round, give the fullest possible expression to the precanonical interest in anatomy, the legs and feet appear cast in a new mold, as it were. Treated very much like the legs and feet of the later harp players, they already show an inclination toward the streamlining and simplification of form that took hold at the beginning of EC II. The female figure's undifferentiated hands with their short fingers and small feet with their short toes are both understated and stylistically more homogeneous than the harp player's. The bulging calves, however, are roughly analogous to the powerful arm muscles of the musician figure. Given the sculptor's obvious talent for manipulating the marble, seen in the relief work of the arms, the complex contours along the profile, and the cuttings between the arms and torso, it does not seem to me impossible that the man who made this figure could have gone on, later in his career, to carve the harp player. In any event, whether or not the two works were fashioned by one person, they are likely to have been made near the end of the transitional phase, shortly before the reclining folded-arm figure came into its own.51

Selection from Chapter 2, page 31 to 33

In Chapter 1 I suggested that the two parallel lines of the opposed forearms of female Plastiras figures could double, psychologically or perceptually, as abdominal grooves, reinforcing the notion of pregnancy and parturition. I believe that in EC II, the forearms, now rendered as three parallel lines, continued to play the same double role in the minds of both craftsman and user. This may help to account for the survival of the motif despite its long dormancy. It may also explain why, on many folded-arm figures, the mid-section is curiously abbreviated or even seemingly missing altogether. The forearms could in effect hide, protect, enhance, emphasize, or serve as a substitute for the abdomen.56 The Kapsala and earliest Early Spedos sculptors effectively solidified the folding of the arms, with the right arm all but unfailingly placed below the left. Thus began a tradition that was to last several hundred years. Elsewhere I have sought to explain the right-below-left convention as the creation of right-handed sculptors who would have found it easier to draw the arms that way.57 Its remarkably consistent use, once established, may have been due to an unconscious effort to maintain an illusion of symmetry. After being exposed to a fair number of folded-arm figures, one becomes so accustomed to the right arm being the lower one that the arrangement appears to be symmetrical, even though, strictly speaking, it is not. By the same token, when presented with an example of arm reversal (or a photograph of a figure that has been mistakenly printed in reverse),58 one has the impression that its entire balance has been upset-that something is very wrong.

The folding of the arms is arguably the most arresting and defining feature of EC II figures. Curiously, for all that it is a stylized depiction (with variations) of two or three


quite natural ways of holding the arms-something to remember when seeking influences from outside the Cyclades-it is nevertheless extremely rare in ancient art. Among prehistoric figures, few fully articulated examples comparable to the Cycladic come easily to mind. Among the most graphic are the well-known electrum and gold figure from Hasano glan in Anatolia, shown here without its sheet-gold attachments (fig. 15a), and a virtually unknown and quite exceptional Chalcolithic seated figure of picro-lite from Cyprus (fig. 15b).59 So rare is the folded arrangement of the arms, in fact, that cross-cultural influence has been suggested.60 One reason for the rarity of the folded arrangement, despite its usefulness in stone sculpture as a way of carving the arms on the body, might be that it is not truly symmetrical; others might be that the gesture was considered too mundane, without significance, or too off-putting.61

For the folded-arm position to have become popular in the Cyclades in the first place and then for it to have endured so successfully for so long, I believe it must have been more than just a convenient but meaningless artistic convention. Its convenience is undeniable: sculptors used it at every opportunity, and on male figures as well as female ones. The arms, until the Chalandriani variety, are invariably folded, except on works, such as the musician figures, where both arms are shown engaged in a specific action (fig. 16a, d; also b). If only one arm is occupied, the other is positioned in the usual way.


The cupbearer, for example, holds his cup in one outstretched hand, but his free arm is folded
against his body (fig. 16c).62 The same is true of the rare compositions in which two figures, carved side by side, clasp each other round the back with their adjacent arms, but their unoccupied outer arms, again, are folded across their torsos (pl. 26d; figs. 16e, 34).63 And yet, given the fact that the folded position evolved gradually and naturally (and therefore not by adoption from elsewhere), it was probably also something less than a gesture with a new or consciously articulated meaning.64 The folding of the arms should perhaps be viewed as a relatively easily rendered, generalized gesture with an important design component-a gesture that endowed an image with a calm, self-contained quality while providing a focal point to attract the user/viewer's attention to that part of the body which was the container of new life.

The reader may doubt that the particular arrangement of the arms could have had anything to do with the mysterious process leading to birth, since male figures are on occasion represented in the same way. Male images are, however, exceedingly rare among folded-arm figures.65 Such works may have had their arms folded simply because that had proven to be the perfect neutral, passive gesture. (In the same way, the old opposed position of the arms, inherited from the overwhelmingly female depictions of the Neolithic Age, was used for both female and the less plentiful male Plastiras images.)


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