The Lady of Elche, also known as Lady of Elx, is a limestone bust of a woman’s head found on a private estate at La Alcudia, two kilometers south of Elche, Spain.
The Iberian artifact is believed to have been produced in the 4th century BC, although the craftsmanship suggests strong Hellenistic influences. It is one of the most famous sculptures in the world.
The sculpture was found on 4 August 1897, by a young worker, Manuel Campello Esclapez. However, local keeper of the records Pere Ibarra had a different version of the discovery: he stated that a man named Antonio Maciá, one of the workers clearing the southeast slope of La Alcudia for agricultural purposes, was the one to find the bust.
The bust measures some 56 centimeters high, and it features the head and shoulders of an elite woman. The complex headdress features two large wheel-like coils known as “rodetes” on either side of the head and face.
The statue was originally polychrome, or painted in vivid colors. Two of the colors have been identified by experts: classic natural vermillion and Egyptian blue.
Who she might have been continues to be a mystery. There has been speculation about whether the statue’s function was as a funerary receptacle, a representation of a goddess, or an Iberian princess.
There’s also debate as to whether it was created as a bust or was once part of a larger figure. Technically and stylistically it is considered to have a strong Hellenistic influence.
Shortly after the discovery, the owner of the site where it had been found sold the sculpture to Pierre Paris, a French archaeological connoisseur, who exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
After the Vichy government negotiated with Franco’s government, the sculpture was placed in Museo del Prado (Madrid) on 27th June 1941. Since 1971, the Lady of Elche has been exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid and remains one of the museum’s greatest treasures.