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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Discovery of Cycladic Figurines: Evaluative Misinterpretations and Aesthetic Overuses

The first figurines carved on white marble came to light in the late eighteenth century, when P. van Kneney drew attention to their existence and called them “idols” or “figurines”. Save the end of the nineteenth century, the European travelers and archaeologists were not system¬atically engaged in the study of figurines; it was only then that the climate started changing, when the first research projects were carried out in the Cyclades by Bent, Dümmler and Tsountas. The aesthetic evaluations of the scholars for this new works of art were expressing their reactions, which could be grouped in three categories: the first shows embarrassment and reserve, the second includes all sorts of negative judgments, the third comprises complex terms and peculiar characterizations. This reserve, aversion and, in some cases, rejection originated from the established conception of “beautiful”. The classic ideal did not permit scholars to approach the Cycladic figurines in a different way. This atti¬tude changed in the early twentieth century, when the modern sculptors “adopted” morphological characteristics of the figurines in their creations. Acceptance and recognition came slowly and progressively through the familiarity of the specialists with these “primitive” art forms, which in the 60s led archaeologists to typology. This formalistic method of classification and evaluation prevailed throughout the post-war years, and thus the “peculiar”, “incomplete”, “ugly”, “primitive” statuettes were transformed and began to be considered as fine works of art.