Ancient civilizations in general have been provoking curiosity in the modern world for hundreds of years. In the 1890’s excavations were made on the islands of the Cyclades on which hundreds of tombs were recovered. From these tombs scholars were able to identify a new era called the “Cycladic” civilization which could be dated alongside the Egyptian chronology (Pedley 20). One ancient Cycladic piece I found to be quite interesting is a marble statue of a harp player that is located in the Getty Villa museum in Malibu, California. It was found during an excavation on the island of Keros in the 19th century. The purposes and domestic uses, if any, of the Harp player along with similar Cycladic figurines referred to as “idol dolls” remain a mystery. Many theories have been established since their discoveries, however, I believe that, like most Cycladic art and pottery, the Getty Harp Player had both practical and religious purposes during its owner’s life and death. “Idol dolls” made during the Cyclades come from the Early Bronze age. It was not until after World War II that people discovered and became fascinated with them. An estimated twelve thousand graves have been opened in the Cycladic islands and a plethora of idols have been found. The Getty Harp Player is one of the most famous dolls because of the rarity of its unique style and theme. The Getty Harp Player’s fascinating detail and intriguing simplicity provokes curiosity as to what purpose the figure possessed. Licia Ragghianti, author of The Magnificent Heritage of Ancient Greece, excellantly describes the hypothetical thought process of the sculptor as he created this masterpiece. According to Ragghianti, “[He] proceeded by aligning, counterbalancing, paralleling, angling, interpenetrating, and inverting the triangular rhythms viewed both laterally and from above - with the head nose, arms and legs indicating direction - as well as from the horizontal plane of the base.” Because light filters through the translucent marble, a contemplative meaning is developed through the angles and planes that make up the form (Ragghianti 22). Detail was rarely carved into Cycladic figurines due to the difficulty in manipulating the marble. This is why the head, arms, and legs of the harp player were created in a very angular and planar fashion and the face was not carved with many features. However, paint “ghosts” have been found on this piece suggesting that its creator had previously used paint to add details to the figure (Lawergren 3). Over time, the paint had diminished entirely, leaving a slightly lighter “shadow” depicting where the paint may have previously been placed. This allows us to conclude that detail was in fact important to the Cyclades in contrast to what may be assumed upon first look. Though some may believe that the Getty Harp player along with other Cycladic figurines were made solely for aesthetic purposes, it’s difficult to believe that the Cycladic people put so much time and effort to create a detailed piece of art that was purely for decoration. One way to provoke the idea that the Getty Harp player contains a more practical use is to compare it to other Cycladic art and their functions. As in most ancient civilizations, pottery was a form of art that served a purpose in the Cylcladic world. Plates and pots with beautiful patterns and designs were excavated in the Cycladic region which demonstrates that the Cycladic people spent hours forming objects that not only served to be visually pleasing, but had simple yet necessary household purposes. Historians presume that many of these spectacular pieces of art held purposes that were vital to the individual person and to the community as a whole. For example, a particular object was found that looks like merely an elaborately designed plate. However, it is believed that this plate was important to Cylcadic lifestyle because it was used as a sort of frying pan for cooking. This leads me to believe that if...
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Hafner, German. Art of Crete, Mycenae, and Greece. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1969. Print.
Lawergren, Bo. A "Cycladic" Harpist in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Diss. Hunter College, 2000. New York: City University of New York, 2000. Web. 5 Mar. 2012. .
Pedley, John G. Greek Art and Archaeology. [S.l.]: Prentice Hall, 2003. Print.
Ragghianti, Licia Collobi. The Magnificent Heritage of Ancient Greece: 3000 Years of Hellenic Art. New York: Newsweek, 1979. Print.
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