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Early to Mid 20th Cent Spanish Plaster Bust of the “Dama de Elche”

An early to mid 20th century Spanish gesso bust of the Dama d’Elx signed A.Sanchez

The Lady of Elche (in Spanish, Dama de Elche in Valencian, Dama d’Elx) is a limestone bust that was discovered in 1897, at La Alcudia, an archaeological site on a private estate two kilometers south of Elche, Spain. It is currently exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid.

It is generally known as an Iberian artefact from the 4th century BC, although the artisanship suggests strong Hellenistic influences.According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the Lady of Elche is believed to have a direct association with Tanit, the goddess of Carthage, who was worshiped by the Punic-Iberians
The originally polychromed bust is theorized to represent a woman wearing an elaborate headdress and large wheel-like coils (known as rodetes) on each side of the face.The opening in the rear of the sculpture indicates it may have been used as a funerary urn.

Other artefacts associated with Iberian culture are the Lady of Guardamar—which has similar wheel-like rodetes and necklaces―or the Lady of Baza. While the Lady of Elche is a bust, there are indications that it was part of a seated statue, similar to the Lady of Baza (with which it shares similar necklace pendants) or a standing one like the Gran Dama Oferente from Cerro de los Santos (Montealegre del Castillo, Albacete).

These three figures and the Bicha of Balazote are exhibited in the same Iberian art hall in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid.


Discovery and repatriation

The sculpture was found on 4 August 1897, by a young worker, Manuel Campello Esclapez. The popular version of the story differs from the official report by Pere Ibarra (the local keeper of the records) which stated that Antonio Maciá found the bust. Ibarra’s version of the discovery story, was that farm workers clearing the southeast slope of La Alcudia for agricultural purposes, discovered the sculpture. The bust was quickly nicknamed “Reina Mora” or “Moorish Queen” by locals.
An archaeological site is now located where the bust of Elche was discovered. Evidence has been found there of an Iberian-Punic settlement, a Roman sewer, walls and Roman houses, and mosaics. One mosaic shows an effigy of Saint Abdon, belonging to a Christian basilica of the 5th century. The latter archaeological evidence is supported by the codices of the councils of Toledo where it discusses an audience with bishops from Illici (Elche).
Dr. Campello, owner of the farm, was married to Asunción Ibarra, daughter of Aureliano Ibarra Manzoni, a 19th century humanist and amateur archeologist. Ibarra Manzoni had found a number of objects and Iberian vestiges on his own farmland and in other places in the municipality of Elche. He built up a valuable collection, which he bequeathed to his daughter Asunción. He provided instructions that she make the necessary arrangements for the collection to be offered for sale to the Real Academia de la Historia after her death, to be located finally at the National Archaeological Museum. The will specified that the collection be sold in its entirety. The family placed the Lady on their balcony so that it could be viewed by all of the residents of Elche.
Don Pedro Ibarra invited French archaeologist Pierre Paris to his home to see the Mystery Play of Elche. When the archaeologist saw the Iberian bust, he recognized its worth and notified the Louvre in Paris. The Louvre offered a large sum of money for the time: 4000 francs, and purchased the sculpture within a few weeks of its discovery. Despite opposition from Doña Asuncion, the Iberian bust was sold. On 30 August 1897, the sculpture was sent to the Louvre.

For 40 years the Dama de Elche was exhibited at the Louvre. After the start of World War II in 1939, as a precaution, the sculpture was transferred for safe-keeping to the castle of Montauban near Toulouse. The Vichy government negotiated the statue’s return to Spain with Franco’s government. In 1941 it was returned through an exchange of works (which also included the Immaculate Conception of the Venerable Ones (or Immaculate Conception of Soult) by Murillo, the twin sphinxes of El Salobral and several pieces of the Treasure of Guarrazar, and the Iberian sculptures of Osuna. In return Spain transferred to France a portrait of Mariana of Austria by Velázquez (the Prado kept another existing version of the portrait, which was considered of superior quality) and a Portrait of Antonio de Covarrubias by El Greco. Since 1941, the Lady of Elche has been officially owned by the Museo del Prado (catalog number E433).
The discovery of the Lady of Elche initiated a popular interest in pre-Roman Iberian culture. She appeared on a 1948 Spanish one-peseta banknote and was mentioned in William Gaddis‘s The Recognitions (1955).
In 1971 it was transferred from El Prado to the National Archaeological Museum of Spain,  where it is currently exhibited.

Reference number



Spanish 20th Century


Height: 49.5cm (19.5 inches)
Width: 46cm (18.1 inches)
Depth: 34cm (13.4 inches)

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