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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Daedalic Style

A new style of sculpture appeared in Greece early in the seventh century, imported from the Near East. In the Levant there were terracotta votive figurines representing Astarte in the nude (Astarte is Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, war, sex, and power). These were mass-produced in molds. Hence they were easy to make, and they were cheap. In Greece the technique and the style were quick to spread. Soon the style found expression in media other than clay: wood, ivory, metal, and stone.

There are some male figures, always nude, except for a belt. But the favored subject remains the female figure. Unlike the nude Astarte, she is usually draped. She is strictly frontal, symmetrical, and static, standing or sitting with feet together and wearing a full-length belted robe.

The true hallmarks of the style are seen in the hair, head, and face. The hair takes the form of a big triangle, falling in front of the shoulders either in a mass with horizontal waves or layers (hence the term often applied to it, Etagenperücke or “layered wig”) or in heavy locks crimped at even intervals (the Perlenlocken or “strings-of-pearls-tresses”). Within this big triangular headdress the face is a smaller inverted triangle. The lower part of the face may have the shape of a V or be rounded to that of a U. The face is flat and sometimes buried so deep in the hair that the ears are covered. The top of the head is flattened to maintain triangularity, giving a “brainless look” (Andrew Stewart) and producing a low forehead with a straight hairline. The eyes are usually large and set rather high.

Sharp angles are rounded and most lines are slightly curved, in a movement toward naturalism. Yet the underlying design, that of an inverted triangle for the face within a larger triangle for the headdress, is unmistakable. (Indeed a frontal head alone--without a body--is enough to identify this style.) The resulting tension is thus described by Martin Robertson: “In the Geometric period no interest is shown in the human face as such; it is treated, if at all, in a summary and impressionistic manner. Here [in Daedalic art] we see, as in black-figure vase painting, the reimposition of Geometric discipline on a new realization of nature; and it is the tension between an ever-growing interest in natural forms and a stubborn sense of the decorative patter proper to a work of art that gives Greek art its peculiar character, not only in the Archaic period” (Robertson 1.34)

The Daedalic lies between the Geometric and Archaic periods. Why not just “Orientalizing,” to match the analogous and more or less contemporary period in vase painting? After all, the style was borrowed from the Near East. “Daedalic” as a term in art history goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century. It is true that the tradition about Daedalus the artist goes back to Homer (Iliad 18.590-92). There is the builder of a dancing floor on Crete. Later authors tell us that he was the grandson of the early Athenian king Erechtheus and the creator of amazing life-like statues, even the inventor of sculpture.

For them it was only natural to associate the earliest statues with some protos heuretes (“inventor”), and Daedalus belonged to the world of Homer, the go-to source for early Greek culture then as now. The only problem was that Daedalus was Greek and in reality the origins of sculpture lay outside of Greece. For Sarah Morris, the attribution of sculpture to the Athenian Daedalus is yet another instance of “Orientalism” (Edward Said), which, taking for granted the superiority of the West, has denied credit to the East. “The modern convention recapitulates the ancient rejection of an Oriental role by substituting the name of a Greek craftsman to account for the most profoundly Oriental of Greek styles” (Morris 256). But the term is conventional, and it not likely to go away.

A periodization Daedalic art (into Proto-, Early, Middle, and Late) was attempted long ago by R. J. H. Jenkins in his Dedalica (1936). Few today would accept his chronology. Still, it will be useful to look at some examples of the style in different periods and media.

An early example of the new style is a bronze statuette from Olympia dating to c. 700-675 BC: a warrior, naked but for his belt and crested helmet, stands with his right arm raised to hold a spear (missing). His hair is an early rendition of the Etagenperücke.

Representing the Early Daedalic (675-c. 655) is this ivory sphinx from the sanctuary of Hera Limenia in Perachora. In this phase the faces tend to be long triangles, with the chin rounded off.

The Middle Daedalic (c. 655-630) has shorter and wider faces, with squarer chins. It is represented in the fragment of a limestone relief from the acropolis of Mycenae, shown in the picture at the top of this post. The date is 650-625 BC. A woman is drawing a cloak over her head, breaking the symmetry typical of Daedalic sculpture. Two rows of ringlets cross the forehead. She wears the Etagenperücke. This piece may be compared with the Lady of Auxerre, the subject of an upcoming post.

Also representing the Middle Daedalic is this torso from a female figurine, mold-made out of terracotta, from Crete, one of a series produced there from c. 680-625 BC. The detailed coiffure (Etagenperücke) and anatomy indicate a date toward the end of the series, c. 650-625 BC.

Yet another Middle Daedalic piece is this Protocorinthian aryballos (oil flask) from Thebes. The head was made with a mold. The decoration was by a known artist, the Boston Painter, and can be dated with some confidence to around 650 BC. Datable vases such as this one are important, for they give us a means of dating other Daedalic pieces, such as the ones to be featured in upcoming posts.

Representing the Late Daedalic (c. 630-600) is this torso of a seated woman from Eleutherna on Crete. The medium is limestone. The oval face points to a late date, c. 600.  The coiffure is crimped tresses (Perlenlocken).

Also late is this plaque of electrum (a natural alloy of gold and silver) from Kamiros on Rhodes, showing a bee goddess.  It was a piece of personal jewelry, “probably worn strung across the top of a garment, fastened at the shoulders,” according to the British Museum website.

Enough has been shown here to display the hallmarks of the Daedalic style and the extent of its distribution outside of Crete (if it is true that it emanated from that island). The examples shown also suggest the diverse media in which it found expression: clay (terracotta), bone, bronze, electrum, gold, wood (rare), limestone, marble.

Do all these pieces really belong to a single style? Today few would speak, with Robertson, of “the extraordinary unity of the Daedalic style” (1.36). Stansbury-O’Donnell is among those who find it fanciful. “Daedalic persists as a term to describe seventh-century sculpture, but it implies a greater unity of style and concept than exists” (135). Would it not be better to call it “Orientalizing,” putting the focus on the multiple sources of its inspiration rather than on a supposedly cohesive set of principles dubiously attributed to a Greek protos heuretes? Nonetheless, for the time being, the term and the concept persist.

  • Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period. 1978.
  • Carter, Jane.  "Daedalic Art."  In: Gargarin, Michael, ed.  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome.  7 vols.  2009.  1.353-355.
  • Hurwit, Jeffrey M. The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 BC. 1985.
  • Morris, Sarah.  Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art.  1992.
  • Robertson, Martin. A History of Greek Art. 2 Vols. 1975.
  • Said, Edward.  Orientalism.  1978.
  • Spivey, Nigel. Greek Sculpture. 2013.
  • Stansbury-O’Donnell, Mark D. A History of Greek Art. 2015.
  • Stewart, Andrew. Greek Sculpture. 2 Vols. 1990.

Emily Claire Kibbe

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