Broken from a nearly life-size sculpture, this head is remarkable for its scale and the elegance of its form. Much original paint remains, an unusual occurrence that may be due to its burial in a protected environment, such as a grave. Although we appreciate Cycladic figures today for their abstract simplicity, they were originally decorated with brightly colored pigments that detailed not only facial features, but also hair, jewelry and clothing. The traces of paint preserved on this figure convey some of the original decorated effect. Red pigment on the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin may represent tattoos or cosmetic art. Faint bluish color on the top and back of the head indicates hair. Large almond-shaped eyes are evident as “ghosts,” lighter raised areas that thick paint sealed and protected from erosion.
Within Cycladic culture, the figures’ role and meaning remain elusive. While these figures have been found almost exclusively in graves placed on their backs, it is not clear whether they were made specifically for burials. On some examples, the painted decoration has been refreshed, suggesting that the images were in use for a long period of time before being buried. Additionally, a few examples also come from sanctuaries, and would have served a ritual function. Since they could not stand, they may have been held upright in social or religious activities, such as processions. Rare examples, like this one, are quite large, and may have been used in household shrines or ceremonial cult contexts.