British Museum blog

Newly-acquired Cycladic figurine goes on display

Lesley Fitton, British Museum

Marble Cycladic figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type Made in the Cyclades, Greece, about 2300–2200 BC

The Cycladic gallery (Room 11) at the British Museum now has a new addition – an extremely rare marble figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type.

He is the first male figurine to be added to the collection, and so is vastly outnumbered by the female figurines surrounding him, but he looks lovely and very much at home in his new surroundings. You can even see the ‘ghosts’ of his painted eyes, so the lighting is, luckily, just right.

The ‘hunter-warriors’ are so called because they show an active male role. They are defined by the presence of a shoulder-strap (baldric) and a belt, and some are also shown with a dagger. This one has no dagger, but we have decided to display him next to an actual dagger of the same period. He is also near to a female figurine of the late, Chalandriani variety, so it’s possible to see how he fits towards the end of the sequence of production. He was made in the Cyclades (the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea) around 2300-2200BC.

Male Cycladic figurines are rare, but ‘hunter-warriors’ are more rare still – in fact, only three other relatively well-preserved examples are known worldwide. We had scarcely expected to be able to make such a significant acquisition, but this piece comes with a good history that adds to its fascination. It belonged to the abstract-expressionist artist Wolfgang Paalen, who lived in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.

Marble Cycladic figurine of the ‘hunter-warrior’ type Made in the Cyclades, Greece, about 2300–2200 BC

Interest in early creations such as Cycladic figurines, along with excitement about the arts of Africa, pre-Columbian South America and Polynesia, were characteristic of artistic circles in Paris at this time. In the mid-1930s Paalen produced what he called his ‘Cycladic paintings’. The influence of objects such as this figurine is very apparent in these works and we have included a small image of one of them in the display.

We would hope in the future to borrow a Paalen ‘Cycladic’ painting to show alongside the wonderful new figurine, which contributes so significantly to both an ancient Cycladic and a modern Parisian story.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

This acquisition was made possible by the Art Fund and generous private donations

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21 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Placing this object in its both its archaeological and historical matrix is an excellent introduction. What might help would be links to the other related objects mentioned in this summary, i.e. the female figurine of the late, Chalandriani variety, the period dagger and examples of Wolfgang Paalen’s Cycladic paintings. To the average reader, these are all likely to prove equally as obscure and in need of introduction – if only visually – as this addition to the BM’s collection.

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  2. Philippe says:

    provenance? any info on due dilligence carried out

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    • @Philippe

      Thanks for your comment – the original provenance of the figurine is not known, but the Museum did indeed apply its usual strict acquisition procedures, which can be seen in detail in the Museum’s Policy on Acquisitions on our website here: http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/management_and_governance/museum_governance.aspx.

      In essence these restrict us from acquiring anything that was not known to be outside its country of origin before at least 1970, and preferably earlier. We have documented proof of the figurine being sent by Paalen to a friend in New York in 1952, and we know from the evidence of his own life and activities that he formed a very small collection of Cycladic pieces in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.

      Lesley Fitton, British Museum

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  3. James Clifton-Harrison says:

    It looks more like he’s broken his arm and it’s the earliest known form of a sling. Still, a great find.

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  4. Do you think the eyes were carved, or do they stand out a little from the rest of the face because the paint has protected them from wear? Or is it a bit of both?

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    • @ David Rowswell

      All the indications are that paint has protected the surface of the marble – the eyes were typically painted on Cycladic figurines rather than carved. We hope to investigate whether any traces of paint have survived later in the year by using a number of scientific techniques.

      In the case next to the hunter-warrior there is a large female figurine with some painted detail surviving, including the eyes:

      http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/gr/m/marble_figurine_of_a_woman-1.aspx

      Andrew Shapland, curator, British Museum

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      • David Rowswell says:

        Thank you for your response. You say that the eyes were typically painted and not carved; Does your use of the word ‘typically’ mean that examples of Cycladic figures with carved eyes do exist?

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      • Yes, Cycladic figurines are diverse and some of the early and late examples do have carved eyes, but the head is also less stylised. This figurine is typical in having only the nose carved in relief, and other features painted on. You might like to compare a similar hunter-warrior in the Goulandris Museum, which does have carved eyes and another with ghost of painted eyes.

        Andrew Shapland, curator, British Museum

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      • Emily Poelina-Hunter says:

        Do these scientific tests for paint traces include ultraviolet reflective photography, microscopic photography, computer enhancement of images, and/or energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry? And have the tests been carried out yet?

        Also will the entire surface of the figurine be analysed or just the face?

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      • @ Emily
        Initial tests have been carried out, which are similar to those you mention: Raman spectroscopy, x-ray radiography and visible-induced luminescence. The results will be used to inform future work (involving other techniques as appropriate), which we hope will take place next year. Certainly we would like to look at the whole surface of the figurine in detail. Although the ‘ghosts’ of the eyes are the most obvious indication of painting it is possible that the analysis will be able to find the chemical signature of the pigments, whether on the face or elsewhere. The Museum has started to add scientific reports to the object records on Collections Online and we expect to do the same for the figurine in due course.
        Andrew

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  5. Irvine Wire says:

    A lovely piece and I look forward to seeing it in the museum. However I’m interested in this statement:
    “The ‘hunter-warriors’ are so called because they show an active male role.”
    To my eye this piece does not look any more active than other pieces in the collection and I’d be interested to know how this conclusion was drawn. Could you enlighten me?

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    • @ Irvine Wire

      You are right that the pose is fairly static, but this is standard for nearly all Cycladic figurines. The shoulder-strap, associated with carrying weapons, suggests that it is his status as a hunter or warrior which is being highlighted. This is what makes him stand out against the other figurines in the case and so distinguishes his male role: we hope that the display brings out the significance of what now seem like very subtle differences.

      Andrew Shapland, curator, British Museum

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  6. Thanks for the information – an interesting piece indeed!

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  7. Mefree says:

    I think it looks like an alien figurine. Striking long neck and big head..

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  8. A fabulous work of art. The time and effort taken to emphasise the baldric shows the importance of the item in pre-2nd millennia BCE. Interesting pre-Cameo codpiece too!

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  9. Joseph says:

    Is there a side view?

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  10. Tyler says:

    How was this figurine acquired by the British Museum?

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  11. Tyler says:

    Why have more female Cycladic figurines been found than male Cycladic figurines?

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For our final #MuseumInstaSwap post we’re highlighting the 'Make Do and Mend' campaign of the Second World War, as told by our partner @ImperialWarMuseums in their #FashionontheRation exhibition.

The campaign was launched to encourage people to make their existing supplies of clothes last longer. Posters and leaflets were circulated with advice on subjects including how to prevent moth damage to woollens, how to make shoes last longer or how to care for different fabrics. As the war went on, buying new was severely restricted by coupon limits and no longer an option for many people. The ability to repair, renovate and make one's own clothes became increasingly important. Although shoppers would have to hand over coupons for dressmaking fabric as well as readymade clothes, making clothes was often cheaper and saved coupons. ‘Make Do and Mend’ classes took place around the country, teaching skills such as pattern cutting. Dress makers and home sewers often had to be experimental in their choice of fabrics. Despite disliking much of the official rhetoric to Make Do and Mend, many people demonstrated great creativity and adaptability in dealing with rationing. Individual style flourished. Shortages necessitated imaginative use of materials, recycling and renovating of old clothes and innovative use of home-made accessories, which could alter or smarten up an outfit. Many women used furnishing fabrics for dressmaking until these too were rationed. Blackout material, which did not need points, was also sometimes used. Parachute silk was highly prized for underwear, nightclothes and wedding dresses.

We've really enjoyed working with and learning from our friends at @imperialwarmuseums this week. You can catch up on all our posts and discover many more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 4773 For #MuseumInstaSwap we’re discovering the street style of the Second World War in the #FashionontheRation exhibition at @ImperialWarMuseums. In this archive photo a female member of the Air Raid Precautions staff applies her lipstick between emergency calls.

In wartime Britain it was unfashionable to be seen wearing clothes that were obviously showy, yet women were frequently implored not to let 'standards' slip too far. There was genuine concern that a lack of interest in personal appearance could be a sign of low morale, which could have a detrimental impact on the war effort. The government's concern for the morale of women was a major factor in the decision to continue the manufacture of cosmetics, though in much reduced quantities. Make-up was never rationed, but was subject to a luxury tax and was very expensive. Many cosmetics firms switched some of their production to items needed for the war effort. Coty, for example, were known for their face powder and perfumes but also made army foot powder and anti-gas ointment. Make-up and hair styles took on an increased importance and many women went to great lengths to still feel well-dressed and stylish even if their clothes were last season's, their stockings darned and accessories home-made. As with clothing, women found creative ways around shortages, with beetroot juice used for a splash of lip colour and boot polish passing for mascara.

Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap © IWM (D 176) In the @ImperialWarMuseums exhibition ‘Fashion on the Ration: 1940s street style’ we can see how men and women found new ways to dress while clothing was rationed. Displays of original clothes from the era, from military uniforms to utility underwear, reveal what life was really like on the home front in wartime Britain.

Despite the limitations imposed by rationing, clothing retailers sought to retain and even expand their customer base during the Second World War. Britain's high street adapted in response to wartime conditions, and this was reflected in their retail ranges. The government intervened in the mass manufacture of high street fashions with the arrival of the Utility clothing scheme in 1942. Shoppers carefully spent their precious clothing coupons and money on new clothes to make sure their purchases would be suitable across spring, summer and autumn and winter. Despite the restrictions, the war and civilian austerity did not put an end to creative design, commercial opportunism or fashionable trends on the British home front.

#FashionontheRation exhibition runs @imperialwarmuseums until 31 August.

Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap. For our final day of #MuseumInstaSwap we’re learning about the Second World War @ImperialWarMuseums, and discovering the impact of the war on ordinary people. 
Clothes were rationed in Britain from 1 June 1941. This limited the amount of new garments people could buy until 1949, four years after the war's end. The British government needed to reduce production and consumption of civilian clothes to safeguard raw materials and release workers and factory space for war production. As with food rationing, which had been in place since 1940, one of the reasons for introducing civilian clothes rationing was to ensure fairness. Rationing sought to ensure a more equal distribution of clothing and improve the availability of garments in the shops.

As this poster shows, the rationing scheme worked by allocating each type of clothing item a 'points' value which varied according to how much material and labour went into its manufacture. Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man's shirt or a pair of trousers. Women's shoes meant relinquishing five coupons, and men's footwear cost seven coupons. When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a 'points' value as well as money. Every adult was initially given an allocation of 66 points to last one year, but this allocation shrank as the war progressed. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 8293) This week on @instagram we’ve joined up with other London museums to highlight our shared stories. Our partner is @imperialwarmuseums, whose incredible collection brings people’s experiences of modern war and conflict to life. Follow #MuseumInstaSwap to discover some of the intriguing historical connections we have found, as well as insights into everyday life during wartime. As part of our #MuseumInstaSwap with @ImperialWarMuseums, we’ve been given special access to the Churchill War Rooms – located deep below the streets of Westminster.
This is Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s bedroom, which includes his private desk, briefcase and papers, his bed and chamber pot and even an original cigar! The bedroom is located close to the Map Room, keeping Churchill as close as possible to the epicentre of Cabinet War Rooms.
Following the surrender of the Japanese Forces the doors to the War Rooms were locked on 16 August 1945 and the complex was left undisturbed until Parliament ensured its preservation as a historic site in 1948. Knowledge of the site and access to it remained highly restricted until the late 1970s when @ImperialWarMuseums began the task of preserving the site and its contents, making them accessible to as wide an audience as possible and opening them to the public in 1984.
Discover more stories from London’s museums with #MuseumInstaSwap
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