The Lady of Elche


James Blake Wiener
published on 01 November 2017
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The "Lady of Elche" or "Lady of Elx" is a masterpiece of ancient Iberian culture. Carved in the round, the sculpture represents a woman with an idealized face, richly garbed and bejeweled. Made of limestone in the late 5th-early 4th century BCE, the "Lady of Elche" was originally polychromed and the eyes were filled with vitreous paste. Numerous theories of authorship exist, but today most believe that an Iberian commissioned it from a sculptor who was Greek or trained in Greek workshops. The "Lady of Elche" was discovered by chance at the archaeological site of La Alcudia, near the town of Elche, Spain and soon after was sold to the Musée du Louvre in Paris. It was displayed there until 1941, when the French and Spanish governments negotiated its return to Spain. The singular nature of this sculpture has made it an icon of Iberian archaeology. Numerous hypotehses have been posited about the aperture at the back and its possible fuction: as a slot to accomodate a bracket for atttaching the bust to the wall; as a reliquary; and— the most widely accepted—as a possible funerary urn. There are three hypotheses regarding its form: a busy, with similarities to other Iberian sculptures (Baza, Elche); a full-length sculpture, like the "Great Lady Offerant of Cerro de los Santos"; and a seated figure, a time-honored tradition in Iberian statuary. The lady's identity is a mystery but she is attributed both a human and divine nature. Nowadays, the sculpture is interpreted as the portrait of an Iberian aristrocratic woman who was deified by her descendants. (Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid)

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About the Author

James Blake Wiener
James is a writer and former Professor of History. He holds an MA in World History with a particular interest in cross-cultural exchange and world history. He is a co-founder of World History Encyclopedia and formerly was its Communications Director.

Cite This Work

APA Style

Wiener, J. B. (2017, November 01). The Lady of Elche. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Chicago Style

Wiener, James Blake. "The Lady of Elche." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified November 01, 2017.

MLA Style

Wiener, James Blake. "The Lady of Elche." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 01 Nov 2017. Web. 14 Jun 2024.