The Archaeology News Network reports that two masterpieces of early Cycladic art were returned to Greece from Germany on Friday--including one of the largest surviving marble Cycladic idols and a rare example of the Cycladic "frying-pan" vessels made of stone. They had been on exhibit in Germany for thirty-eight years and only in the last three years did negotiations for their return begin between Greek and German authorities, after the National Archaeological Museum refused to collaborate in an exhibition due to their presence there.

The Cycladic 'frying-pan' and marble figurine returned to Greece from the
State Museum of Baden in Karlsruhe [Credit: To Vima]

Cycladic art encompasses the visual art of the ancient Cycladic civilization, which flourished in the islands of the Aegean Sea from 3300 - 2000 BCE. Along with the Minoans and Mycenaeans, the Cycladic people are counted among the three major Aegean cultures. Cycladic art therefore comprises one of the three main branches of Aegean art.

Both artefacts date back to the early Cycladic period in the 3rd millennium B.C. and belong to an era that deeply influenced the 20th century but was also ruthlessly looted by the illegal antiquities trade, with smugglers seeking profits at the same time as museums and private collectors in Europe and America sought to enrich their collections.

The two artefacts returned on Friday were part of this underground trade, bought in 1975 by the Baden state museum in Baden in Karlsruhe, Germany. Their return was officially sealed on Friday at an event held at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, in the gallery where they will be on display, which was attended by Culture and Sports Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos, culture ministry officials, representatives of the German government, and the German museum returning the artefacts, as well as reporters.

In statements, Panagiotopoulos said the return of the two ancient artefacts was a "victory of legality and a hopeful European future," as well as a defeat for the illegal antiquities trade. He then signed a cooperation agreement between the culture ministry and the Baden state museum, announcing the start of period of close cooperation involving chiefly exhibitions but also exchanges of expert scientific staff and know-how. He added:

"The traditionally close friendship of the two peoples has been tested in recent years by the economic crisis and in many cases become trapped in stereotypes or 'shadows' cast by the economic crisis. Through today's event we send a message of friendship, harmonious cooperation and a common course for the two people."

Because of their clandestine origins, much valuable information about these artefacts was lost but they are believed to have originated on the islands of either Naxos, Keros or Amorgos, where similar finds have been uncovered. The marble idol depicts a standing female form with folded arms, while its large size (0.89 m) indicates that it may have been an object of worship. There are also traces of colour around the hair and eyes. The "frying pan" is richly carved and one of the few examples of this form of art that is not ceramic but made of stone, while it is the only known example made of chlorite schist stone.