Lady of Elx
The enigmatic Lady of Elche or Lady of Elx is a once polychrome stone bust
Bust (sculpture)
A bust is a sculpted or cast representation of the upper part of the human figure, depicting a person's head and neck, as well as a variable portion of the chest and shoulders. The piece is normally supported by a plinth. These forms recreate the likeness of an individual...

 that was discovered by chance in 1897 at L'Alcúdia, an archaeological site on a private estate about two kilometers south of Elx/Elche, Valencia, Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. The Lady of Elche is generally believed to be a piece of Iberian sculpture
Iberian sculpture
Iberian sculpture, a subset of Iberian art, describes the various sculptural styles developed by the Iberians from the Bronze age up to the Roman conquest...

 from the 4th century BC, though the artisanship suggests strong Hellenistic influences. According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the Lady of Elche (Alicante
Alicante or Alacant is a city in Spain, the capital of the province of Alicante and of the comarca of Alacantí, in the south of the Valencian Community. It is also a historic Mediterranean port. The population of the city of Alicante proper was 334,418, estimated , ranking as the second-largest...

, or, Roman Lucentum
Lucentum is the name of the Roman predecessor of the city of Alicante, Spain. Particularly, it refers to the archaeological site in which the remains of this ancient settlement lie, at a place known as El Tossal de Manises, in the neighborhood of Albufereta.-Ancient History:Before the arrival of...

), is conjectured as having a direct association with Tanit
Tanit was a Phoenician lunar goddess, worshipped as the patron goddess at Carthage. Tanit was worshiped in Punic contexts in the Western Mediterranean, from Malta to Gades into Hellenistic times. From the fifth century BCE onwards Tanit is associated with that of Baal Hammon...

, the goddess of Carthage, that was worshiped by the Punic-Iberians
Carthaginian Iberia
The Carthaginian presence in Iberia lasted from 575 BC to 206 BC when the Carthaginians were defeated at the Battle of Ilipa in the Second Punic War.-Background:...



The originally polychrome
Polychrome is one of the terms used to describe the use of multiple colors in one entity. It has also been defined as "The practice of decorating architectural elements, sculpture, etc., in a variety of colors." Polychromatic light is composed of a number of different wavelengths...

 bust is usually thought to represent a woman wearing a very complex headdress and big coils on each side of the face. A minority interpretation sees it representing a man. The aperture in the rear of the sculpture indicates it may have been used as a funerary urn.

While it is a bust, there are proposals that it was part of a seated statue like the Lady of Baza
Lady of Baza
The Lady of Baza is a famous example of Iberian sculpture by the Bastetani. It is a limestone female figure with traces of painted detail in a stuccoed surface that was found on July 22, 1971 by Francisco José Presedo Velo, at Baza, in the altiplano, the high tableland in the northwest of the...

or a standing one like the Gran Dama Oferente from Cerro de los Santos (Montealegre del Castillo
Montealegre del Castillo
Montealegre del Castillo is a municipality in Albacete, Castile-La Mancha, Spain. It has a population of 2,282....

, Albacete
Albacete (province)
Albacete is a province of central Spain, in the southern part of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It is bordered by the provinces of Granada, Murcia, Alicante, Valencia, Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Jaén....

The three figures and the Biche of Balazote
Biche of Balazote
The so-called Bicha of Balazote is an Iberian sculpture that was found in the borough of Balazote in Albacete province , Spain. It was first studied by a group of French archaeologists who identified it as a kind of deer, hence the name 'biche' , which was then Castillianized to 'bicha', i.e.,...

are exhibited in the same hall in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain
National Archaeological Museum of Spain
The National Archaeological Museum of Spain is a museum in Madrid, Spain, located beside the Plaza de Colón , sharing its building with the National Library....

 in Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...



The sculpture was found August 4, 1897 by a young worker, Manuel Campello Esclapez. This "popular" version of the story differs from the official report by Pere Ibarra (the local keeper of the records) which stated that it was Antonio Maciá who found the bust.

Pierre Paris, a French archaeological connoisseur, purchased the sculpture within a few weeks and shipped it to France, where it was shown at the Louvre Museum and hidden for safe-keeping during World War II.

The Vichy government negotiated with Franco's government its return to Spain in 1940–41, and on June 27, 1941 the sculpture was placed in Museo del Prado
Museo del Prado
The Museo del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of...

 (Madrid), then moved to the National Archaeological Museum, where it remains.

The discovery of the Lady of Elche initiated a popular interest in pre-Roman Iberian culture. She appeared on a 1948 Spanish one-peseta
Spanish peseta
The peseta was the currency of Spain between 1869 and 2002. Along with the French franc, it was also a de facto currency used in Andorra .- Etymology :...

 banknote and was mentioned in William Gaddis
William Gaddis
William Thomas Gaddis, Jr. was an American novelist. He wrote five novels, two of which won National Book Awards and one of which, The Recognitions , was chosen as one of TIME magazine's 100 best novels from 1923 to 2005...

's The Recognitions (1955).

The sculpture was temporarily on display at the Museo Arqueológico y de Historia de Elche from May 18 to November 1, 2006.
Several appeals from this city (where it is now represented by a state of the art replica) have demanded its permanent return to this city.

Claim of forgery

In 1995, John F. Moffitt, an art historian, published Art Forgery: The Case of the Lady of Elche, University Press of Florida
University Press of Florida
The University Press of Florida is the scholarly publishing arm of the State University System of Florida representing all eleven universities, and is charged by the Florida Board of Governors with publishing books of intellectual distinction and significance, books that contribute to improving the...

, in which he contended that the statue was a forgery
Archaeological forgery
Archaeological forgery is the manufacture of supposedly ancient items that are sold to the antiquities market and may even end up in the collections of museums. It is related to art forgery....

 with similarities to Symbolist art
Symbolism (arts)
Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire...

 of the Belle Époque
Belle Époque
The Belle Époque or La Belle Époque was a period in European social history that began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I. Occurring during the era of the French Third Republic and the German Empire, it was a period characterised by optimism and new technological and medical...

. He put forth a speculation concerning the identity of the forger and commissioner, "a physician and resident surgeon in the town of Elche" who was "well informed about the current state of Iberian studies" and owned "the fertile archaeological site of La Alcúdia".

Experts in Spanish archaeology however, believe that the Lady of Elche is a genuine ancient Iberian work. Antonio Uriarte of the University of Madrid has stated, "Decade by decade, research has reinforced the coherence of the Lady within the corpus of Iberian sculpture. The Lady was found more than a century ago, and many of its features, not then understood, have been confirmed by subsequent finds. For example, the use of paint in Iberian sculpture was unknown when the Lady appeared." A CSIC study on the Lady of Elche's micropigmentation published in 2005 concluded that the trace pigments on the statue were consistent with ancient materials and that no modern pigments had been found.

External links

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