Cycladic figures are the earliest examples of European marble sculpture. They date to the 3rd millennium BC, but they were only rediscovered more than 4000 years later, following excavations in the late 19th century. Archaeologists first regarded them as primitive “idols”, while artists of the avant-garde considered them paragons of abstract formal purity. These statues thus played an important role in the birth of modern European art.
Few figures are known that are as large as the Budapest example. It shows a nude woman with arms crossed; the outstretched feet suggest that the figure was probably laid flat. Only the nose was plastically modelled on the face. Further details were originally painted. Some of the outlines are still visible: note the right eye and the band on the forehead (a hair-ribbon or diadem?).
Most figures were found in tombs, placed beside the dead, but their precise function is not known. We do not know who they depict, since we have no knowledge of what their makers thought about the gods and the world. They are the creations of an unknown people.