The J. Paul Getty Museum

Female Figure of the Precanonical type

Currently on view at: Getty Villa, Gallery 113, Neolithic and Bronze Age Greece

Object Details


Female Figure of the Precanonical type






Cyclades, Greece (Place Created)


2800–2700 B.C.



Object Number:



28.5 × 6.4 × 3 cm (11 1/4 × 2 1/2 × 1 3/16 in.)

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Object Description

Details in the carving of this Cycladic figure identify it as a precanonical type (about 2800-2700 B.C.)—a transitional phase in the development of this kind of sculpture. Although the partially folded arms foreshadow the later canonical Kapsala and Spedos types (named after Early Cycladic cemeteries on the islands of Amorgos and Naxos, respectively) with completely overlapping arms, the figure is still very much related to the earlier Plastiras type (named after a cemetery on Paros) in its elongated neck, modeled limbs, and hands just meeting on the torso. The sculptor of the piece was also still quite interested in naturalistic details. He sculpted the nose, arms, navel, and knees in relief, and indicated the eyes, brows, and ears with shallow, incised lines. Although the almond-shaped eyes and indications of the brows are related to those features painted on later figures, their sculptural rendering connects them to earlier traditions. The modeling and attempted naturalism of the forearms and hands reflect a short-lived approach taken by some sculptors of precanonical figures.

Although the findspot of the great majority of Cycladic figures is unknown, many of those with known contexts have been found placed on their backs in graves. Not all Early Cycladic graves contain such sculptures, however, and several examples have been found in settlement and sanctuary contexts, indicating a more complex and perhaps multifaceted usage. In ceremonial use, the figures would have been held or carried upright in procession. Hundreds of fragments were found in a sanctuary on the island of Keros, deliberately shattered and ritually discarded. Although the figures’ role and meaning in Cycladic culture remain elusive, the fact that the majority of Early Cycladic figures are female, and are represented nude, suggests they are probably linked with the idea of fertility and reproduction, which was a central spiritual concern of ancient Mediterranean religions.

- 1972

Dr. Fred Bromberg and Virginia M. Bromberg (Bay Shore, New York), donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1972.

Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections (November 9, 1987 to September 25, 1988)
  • Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond), November 9, 1987 to January 10, 1988
  • Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth), February 13 to May 15, 1988
  • M. H. de Young Memorial Museum (San Francisco), June 25 to September 25, 1988
Silent Witnesses: Early Cycladic Art of the Third Millennium B.C. (April 4 to June 30, 2002)
  • Onassis Cultural Center (New York), April 4 to June 30, 2002
Prehistoric Arts of the Eastern Mediterranean (February 11 to May 4, 2003)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 11 to May 4, 2003

Frel, Jiří. Antiquities in the J. Paul Getty Museum: A Checklist; Sculpture II: Greek Portraits and Varia (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, November 1979), p. 15, no. V5.

Getz-Preziosi, Pat. Early Cycladic Sculpture (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1985), pl. II b.

Getz-Preziosi, Pat. Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections. Exh. cat., Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, Virginia: 1987), pp. 146-47, no. 17 (joined to 77.AA.24).

Theodorou, J. "Cycladic Art at the Getty." The Greek American (July 25, 1992), ill. p. 9.

Getz-Preziosi, Pat. Early Cycladic Sculpture. Rev. ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1994), color pl. II b.

Doumas, Christos G. Silent Witnesses: Early Cycladic Art of the Third Millennium B.C., exh. cat. Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), April 9-June 15, 2002 (New York: Onassis Foundation, 2002), p. 74, no. 20.