Enduring Elegance

Dama de Elche Pulse para ampliar Dama de Elche (Sala 13)

Lady of Elche

“Fashion fades, style is eternal ” Yves Saint Laurent

This stone sculpture is an icon of Iberian culture and one of the most important treasures in the National Archaeological Museum. Made by a sculptor who was either Greek or trained in Greek workshops in the late fifth/early fourth century BC, it was discovered by chance at the archaeological site of La Alcudia (Elche, Alicante) in 1897. It depicts a lavishly dressed and bejewelled lady with idealised facial features. The statue originally had polychrome decoration and the eyes were filled with vitreous paste. The combination of these aspects lends the lady a distinguished air that endures to this day, even though the polychrome has been lost. There is a hollow in the back whose purpose is uncertain: it may have been used to house cremains, as a reliquary or niche for depositing offerings, or perhaps to secure a hanging element.

The lady’s distinctive headdress is characterised by two large coils, no doubt made of metal in real life and used to wind the hair in spirals. A pointed cap is perched on the crown of her head, and over it she wears a scarf with a headband. She is dressed in a tunic, toga and open cloak that shows off her lavish jewellery. This attire and the precious metalwork, reflecting Iberian fashions, have parallels in the Mediterranean world, where jewellery had both aesthetic and symbolic value.

Attention to detail and the careful composition and proportions produced an elegant, visually attractive statue with a lovely face whose vertical symmetry reinforces the impression of balance. For all these reasons, the Lady of Elche is considered an icon of beauty and inspiration that has endured through the ages: the spirit of her features and elegant coils lives on in the traditional hairdo worn by Valencian women during the annual Fallas festival.