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30 June 2011

Cycladic Warrior becomes latest British Museum acquisition

Rare marble figurine purchased with help from the Art Fund.

By Harry Conrad Cockburn

A 21cm-tall “hunter-warrior” Cycladic figurine created between 2300-2200 BC has become the British Museum‘s latest acquisition. It is the first male figurine of its type to be added to the collection.

These geometric marble sculptures were produced by the Cycladic civilisation, which flourished among the islands of the Aegean Sea between 3300 – 2000 BC. This example is of particular significance because, among existing figurines, only five per cent are male. The British Museum currently has 25 female figurines.

There is no firm consensus regarding the role these figurines played in Cycladic life. Several competing theories include that the sculptures are representations of deities, are fertility symbols, or were used as part of funerary customs, as many have been found at burial grounds. Much of their modern appeal, due to their simplistic design and smooth, featureless abstraction, belies the fact that originally the angular marbles were painted in bright colours.

This figurine had previously been in the collection of the eminent abstract-expressionist artist Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1955), and has since been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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The British Museum purchased the piece with help from the Art Fund, which gave £100,000 towards the total cost of £302,998.

It goes on display at the museum on Tuesday 5 July.