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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Lady of Auxerre

This limestone statuette (at a little over 2 feet tall it is about one third life-size) is named for the French city in which it was first exhibited (retrieved from the storeroom of the Auxerre Museum in 1907, it was later moved to the Louvre in Paris).

The Auxerre Kore or "Lady of Auxerre" is widely regarded as the showpiece of the Daedalic style, partly because it is so well preserved, although most of the left side of the face is missing.  Its Daedalic features include:
  • severe frontality: it is meant to be viewed from the front, although the back is carved, too
  • minimal depth: this is a consequence of its frontality.  “There is little depth to Daedalic figures: faces are mask-like, bodies plank-like; the profile view tends to be minimal” (Spivey 63).
  • triangular face: the inverted triangle, with the chin rounded off to a U-shape
  • flattened head: a consequence of its triangularity
  • low forehead: a consequence of the flattened head
  • large eyes and nose, prominent eyebrows, thick lips
  • coiffure: the hair falls before each shoulder in four tresses crimped at even intervals and tied off at the ends in what look like little knobs.  The crimping or sectioning of vertical tresses the give the effect of horizontal bands: the lines along the two axes suggest a grid.  Yet for all this rectilinearity there are gentle curves, and the hair across the forehead is in curls.
  • the gesture: while the left arm clings to the side, the right is laid across the chest (more on this below)

The Lady of Auxerre is thought to have been made on Crete between 650 and 625 BC.  The nature of its limestone speaks for Crete, as does a comparison of its features with numerous works in other media from the island.  Indeed, Nicholas Stampolidis has argued that it comes from the necropolis of Orthi Petra in Eleutherna, comparing it to another statue discovered there, the Eleutherna Kore, of which only the lower half is preserved.  See the picture below, taken in 2004, when the two statues were juxtaposed in an exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens.

Like other female Daedalic figures, the Lady of Auxerre wears a long tubular dress that gives no hint of legs or knees, although her (rather large) feet do emerge below.  Her high, narrow waist is cinched by a broad belt.  Some have supposed that over her robe she is wearing a cape, sometimes called an epiblema.  Evelyn Harrison has shown that there is but a single garment, pinned in front on each side of the collarbone, and that what appears to be a cape is really the material of the back part of the robe pulled so far forward as to cover the shoulders.  The sleeve-like forms behind her arms are pouches of cloth which she could, at will, pull forward to cover the shoulders or push back to bare them.  A drawing by Harrison is shown to the right.

The statuette was originally polychrome, in other words, painted in various colors, like all Greek sculpture.  Some idea of the appearance of the Lady of Auxerre may be had from the painted plaster cast in the collection at the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge (pictured to the left).  The incisions in the stone offer a guide (they outlined the colors), along with a few traces of red paint on the statue’s chest.  The lower part of the robe was decorated with a squares-within-squares motif, echoed in the garment’s upper border at the neck.  Overlapping scales form the pattern on the upper part.  The belt and bracelet were painted to represent bronze or gold.  Such bronze belts are known from the archaeological record.  Does the painted cast at Cambridge seem gaudy?  Sir William Gell noted 200 years ago: “No nation ever exhibited a greater passion for gaudy colors.”

Finally, there is the question of the gesture of the right held to the breast.  What does it signify?  The truth is that no one knows for sure.  Nigel Spivey has suggested that the figure is a votary reaching forward in supplication (this explains the oversize hand, since it is meant to be closer to the viewer), “for the rules imposed by frontality would demand that an arm extended at the elbow be carved as lying across the belly” (Spivey 63).

This is a much-admired statue.  Robertson praises the tension between the formal and the dynamic: "The whole figure has a charm and a sense of life that seem achieved almost in defiance of the extreme formalism of its method” (38).  Stewart observes that the “delicate balance of straight lines and subtle curves, large volumes and precise transitions, sturdy modeling and eyecatching surface is what gives the piece its extraordinary sculptural power” (107).  But it remains a limestone statuette.  For a grander example of the Daedalic style in marble, we must turn to the Kore of Nicandre, the subject of our next post.

  • Boardman, John.  Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period.  1978.
  • Harrison, Evelyn.  “Notes on Daedalic Dress.”  The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 36 (1977) 37-48.
  • Robertson, Martin.  A History of Greek Art.  2 Vols.  1975.
  • Spivey, Nigel.  Greek Sculpture.  2013.
  • Stampolidis, Nicholas.  “Eleutherna on Crete; An Interim Report on the Geometric-Archaic Cemetery.”  The Annual of the British School at Athens 85 (1990) 375-403.
  • Stewart, Andrew.  Greek Sculpture.  2 Vols.  1990.

Emily Claire Kibbe

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