Marble figurine of a woman
Early Bronze Age, about 2700-2500 BC
From the Cyclades, Aegean Sea
A painted lady from the Early Bronze Age
This unusually large Cycladic 'folded-arm' figurine is very well-preserved. The survival of the painted details is remarkable. It is possible to make out almond-shaped eyes, a necklace and two rows of dots around the brow that may indicate a diadem. Mouths are not commonly shown on Cycladic figures, and it is not certain whether the mouth was indicated here. However, there is a clear dotted pattern on the figure's right cheek, which, along with traces of paint elsewhere on the face, show that it was originally extensively covered with bright, perhaps even garish patterns.
Colouring matter, along with containers and grinders for pigments, have been found in Cycladic graves. This may indicate that painting the faces of the dead formed part of funerary ritual, and the figurines may have been painted at the same time.
Analysis shows the red paint on this figure to be cinnabar and the black meta-cinnabar, an altered form of the same pigment. Both are derived from mercury ore. The black pigment may have been this colour when applied or it may have originally been red and changed colour with age.
J.L. Fitton, Cycladic art, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)