The Cycladic Museum in Athens houses one of the most important collections of Cycladic art from around the world, even though the National Archological Museum also has some very fine artifacts. The objects were made from the Greek Stone Age to the early Bronze Age (4000 – 1800 B.C.). So the Cycladic culture is a pre-Greek culture, of which we have no other information than what these people left us in material things. We know next to nothing about language, religion and customs.
The Cycladic art is usually divided into three periods, early, middle and late Cycladic. The earliest period (4000 – 3200) actually belongs to the New Stone Age (the Neolithic), when the Cyclades were also permanently inhabited for the first time. Around 4000 B.C. agriculture was introduced to the Cyclades and villages with a clear labor specialization arose. The settlements, which were mostly located on the coast of the islands, maintained contact with one another with the help of small boats. In this way raw materials, such as copper, tin and obsidian, as well as technological knowledge and ideas were exchanged. Differences in prosperity, contacts, but also administrative skills led to the emergence of a clear village head, with possibly also religious functions. After 3200 B.C. bronze became known in the Cyclades, beginning the early Bronze Age. It is around this period (early Cyladic I) that the manufacture of small marble statues starts in the Cyclades Islands. In this oldest period, it is mainly votive figures that represent the Mother, a clear fertility goddess. These figures are highly stylized, and are known as the violin type, with clearly visible hips and arms (breasts?) And a head (neck?), But without much detail. Only at the end of this period the first slightly more realistic images are produced, the so-called Louros type around 2800 B.C. (early Cycladic II 2800-2300 B.C.) the Cycladic culture reaches a peak. Existing settlements are expanded and new settlements are founded, new burial methods (for multiple interment) are developed and new vase shapes and decorations are introduced (casserole type, sauce bowl type, striped colored vases). The first bronze weapons are found in the tombs and trade contacts with Greece and Crete are booming. Female figures now have clearly recognizable arms (often folded over the stomach), legs and a face. At the same time there are now also other persons, musicians, wine drinkers and warriors. Around 2300 B.C. we see a clear impoverishment of culture, settlements are abandoned, new (fortified) settlements are being built and industry, especially the manufacture of marble idols, is clearly declining. From 2000 B.C. the islands came under the influence of the Minoan culture in Crete. Around 2000 B.C. production of the Cyclades statues stops. It is uncertain whether the arrival of the Greek-speaking Mycenaeans to the Cyclades islands was a factor in this development. The fact is that only around 1500 B.C. images are again made, now by the Mycenaeans on the mainland, until the Mycenaean civilization around 1200 B.C. comes to an abrupt end. For more information, see the museum’s website, www.cycladic.gr/frontoffice