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Naxian Sphinx, right profile

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Naxian Sphinx, detail of right wing

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Naxian Sphinx, detail of left wing

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Naxian Sphinx, detail of back of head and right wing

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Naxian Sphinx, back view

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Naxian Sphinx, frontal view

Collection: Delphi Archaeological Museum
Title: Naxian Sphinx
Context: From Delphi
Findspot: Excavated at Delphi. Three large fragments of the body were originally discovered in 1861, below the polygonal temple retaining wall, approximately 64 m from the east end (near the monument base). They disappeared after the earthquake of 1870 but were found again in 1893, shortly after the discovery of the head.
Summary: Seated sphinx
Object Function: Votive
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Free-standing statue
Category: Single sculpture
Style: High Archaic
Technique: In-the-round
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 570 BC - ca. 560 BC
Dimensions: H. 2.22 m, H. of face 0.50 m, L. of body 1.35 m
Scale: Over life-size
Region: Phocis
Period: High Archaic

Subject Description:

The Naxian sphinx stood on a tall Ionic column below the Apollo Temple terrace at Delphi, an imposing beast from its perch about ten meters high. It served as a guardian within the sanctuary and, indirectly, as a reminder of Naxian power and influence. Similar capitals and fragments of other votive sphinxes have been found in Delos (said to be of Parian marble) as well as on Paros and the Athenian Acropolis. It is likely that all were Cycladic dedications.

The sphinx (woman-lion-bird) sits flat on its haunches, its forelegs fully extended. The chest is carved with a schematized breastplate of feathers; the wings extensively detailed with longer, more elaborate versions of the same. The head, set on a long neck, faces straight ahead. The long, narrow face exhibits triangular-shaped eyes, a flatish mouth and a receding chin. The hair is treated with incised scallops around the forehead and regular, continuous rows of beads on the crown of the head, held in place by a fillet tied at the back. A single, fat tendril subdivided into round beads drops straight down from behind each ear, while the mass of hair, beaded only along the edges, follows the curve of the back of the neck.

The column is divided into forty-four narrow flutes, like early columns from Samos and Ephesos, and carries an early Ionic-style capital with rounded echinus and small, eyeless volutes. The inscription on the base, which rewards the Naxians with *P*R*O*M*A*N*T*E*I*A (preference with respect to the oracle), is later (4th c.).

Form & Style: The shape of the head, face and particularly the eyes resembles that of Kore 677 from the Athenian Acropolis, also of Naxian marble. Details such as the triangular eyes with horizontal lower lid, flat cheeks and small mouth barely cut into the head suggest attribution to a school of sculptors rooted in the Cyclades, perhaps in Naxos itself. The long, slender body of the sphinx, like those of the much earlier lions on Delos, is also characteristically Cycladic.

Condition: Nearly complete

Condition Description: Preserved in several large, joining fragments, including the head with neck (inv. 380), the upper torso with most of the wings and the lower torso. Smaller fragments also join. A portion of the legs is restored. The capital is restored from two major fragments. Heavily weathered.

Material Description: Naxian marble

Associated Building: Delphi, Naxian Sphinx Column

Sources Used: GuideDelphMu 1991, 31f.; Boardman 1978a, figs. 99-100; Pedley 1976, 26ff.; Robertson 1975, 87; Amandry 1953; FdDelph 4.1, 41f.