I’ve recently returned from a two month sojourn in Greece. As usual I’m drawn to various archaeological sites and museums. I find that in Greece the evidence of the past is everywhere, and like symbols the past is incorporated into later ages. Temples are forgotten, their ruins pilfered for building materials, in the same way that symbols gather new meanings.
This week I’m concentrating on the Cycladic Goddess figurines because I believe that the figurines provide a great example of the abstraction of physical form. The Cyclades is a group of Grecian islands situated in the Aegean Sea. I recommend visiting there and island hopping - each island possesses a unique character. Highlights include the volcanic spur of Santorini, the beautiful beaches of Naxos, rugged mountain tracks over Andros and everywhere fresh food and a relaxed atmosphere.
Dating between 3300-1100 BC the Cycladic culture is famous for producing a distinctive stylised art-form. The majority of the remains found are of the so-called ‘goddess’ figurines. Most of which are rendered in varying degrees of abstraction. For example some look like guitars, others conform to a stylised ritual stance, i.e. figure is standing, arms folded across the chest, the face is triangular, almost shield-like, with only the nose form modelled. Of course many of these were painted, so that details like eyes and mouths were rendered in ochre or charcoal. The effect of the paint upon the stark white marble must have been very striking. The picture taken for this page are my own, and they all come from Naxos Archaeological Museum.
Here were see the artistic/ritual metamorphose of feminine form in a way that still has the ability to amaze us moderns. Once again we have to remember that religion was indistinct from art. But are these effigies goddess figurines, as Marija Gimbutas would have us convinced? or are they localised deities, representations of fertility spirits and such?
|A series of figurines in profile. Naxos Archaeological Museum.|
|Here we see the classic pose. |
You might just make out a painted eye on the centre figure.
|Great close up of a marble goddess head.|
|The head bears a striking similarity to later Mayan pieces, though|
thousands of years and miles separate them.
|Again the striking, ritual pose in various sizes.|
|Classic stylised 'guitar' shape goddess. |
Could it be that carved wooden heads were fixed to the neck peg?
We’ll never know for certain, but I’d like to draw your attention to the following pictures. Note how the female pubic region is simplified into a triangular form, sometimes struck with a dividing line, representing the vagina. This to me is a great example of how a symbol is formed. The vagina is bordered, or framed by a triangle, itself replete with profound symbolism. This boundary demarcates sacred ground: it is the entrance to the womb of the deity, the seat of fertility. The humble triangle inspired by the sculpture, could, in theory, be used to represent such a meaning
- a pictogram or ideogram. Such motifs are the beginnings of alphabets.
Further Reading and Links: