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Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi/ Photo: Thierry Ollivier

Sphinx, Mythological Creature

600 BCE-500 BCE

A dazzling example of the archaic sculpture that blossomed in the Greek world of the 7th−6th century BCE, this sphinx already encapsulates the aesthetic revolution of the next century in embryonic form. While Greek sculptors still drew on Syro-Phoenician iconography, they had freed themselves from the yoke of abstraction to attain greater formal freedom.

The sphinx – a fearsome, fantastic creature that combines the body of a lion, the wings of a bird of prey and the head of a young woman – developed out of the Eastern bestiary imported into Greece in the 9th century BCE. While this composite image circulated primarily in its male form in the Near East, the Greek artists who adopted it emphasised its female and winged nature. Despite its incompleteness, this archaic sphinx displays all of the tensions running through Greek sculpture at the beginning of the 6th century BCE. Like the image, the material − a very soft, shelly limestone − belongs to the traditions of the previous century. Contact with Egyptian monumental sculpture at the beginning of the 6th century prompted Greek artists to abandon this for the far greater hardness of marble.

At the same time, however, various subtle details herald the aesthetic revolution that was to mark the next century. While the treatment of the wings is still purely geometrical, the muscles of the chest, legs and body appear to be taking real shape despite their fragmentary condition. Similarly, while the hair is still conventionally rendered, a living presence is already instilled by the softness of the features, alert expression and faint smile animating the face.

Artwork Details

Title: Sphinx, Mythological Creature
Geography: Greece or Italy
Date: 600 BCE-500 BCE

Medium: limestone

Classification: sculpture
Dimensions: 57 x 21 x 67 cm
Inventory number: LAD 2013.004
Contact for images: [email protected]


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