The female body in prehistoric sculpture
Today is International Women’s Day. A nice opportunity to honour the female body in all its forms.
Women figures have been a topic of interest in art for hundreds of thousands of years – since art exists actually. Women were the frequent subject of sculpture in prehistoric era’s. Their bodies were often captured as goddesses or symbols of fertility and procreation.
Over the ages, this has resulted in many small and often very modern looking figurines. Find some cool examples here, starting with the oldest sculpture of the human body known today.
Woman of Hohe Fehls, 40.000 – 30.000 BC. 6cm.
This lady is the oldest example of a human body known to date: made 42.000 years ago, so long it’s almost unimaginable! Many researchers have debated this figurine, saying it’s “an extremely powerful depiction of the essence of being female” and even pornographic . More common is the interpretation that it represents a goddess of fertility.
(In the Prehistoric Museum of Blaubeuren, Germany)
Woman of Willendorf, ca 28.000-25.000 BC, 11 cm.
An epitome of fertility, with its emphasized female forms.
(In the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria)
Woman from Brassempouy, ca. 22.000 BC, 3,6 cm.
This cool woman stems from the Gravettan Period (28.000 – 22.000 before Christ). In this era, female sculptures outnumbered men’s. This might be an indication that women had higher social ranks than men in this time.
(In the Musée des Antiquités Nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.)
Venus of Monruz, ca 13.000 BC, 1,7 cm.
This teeny tiny figurine was used as a necklace pendant. It was discovered in Switzerland in 1990, during the construction of a new highway.
Figure from Çatalhöyük, Turkey, ca. 6300-6000 BC, 17 cm.
This amazing woman figurine was found in Turkey only 2 years ago. It’s a unique find because of it it was found complete and in exeptionally good state.
Female figure from Cernavoda, Romania, ca. 3500 BC, 11,5 cm.
This sculpture looks almost contemporary, with its geometrical shapes and sharp lines. It was found in a grave and might have been a representation of the deceased or her mourners.
The Schutzer Stargazer, 3300-2500 BC, 20 cm.
Named ‘stargazer’ because of the head that is looking upwards (to the stars), this figurine is a highly geometrical and abstract representation of a female idol. She was presumably used in ritualistic ceremonies, but of what kind is unknown. This type is called a ‘Kiliya’ statuette, and there are about 15 intact versions found. This particular version was sold in an auction at Christie’s for 1,45 million Euros
Woman Figurine, Syros (Cyclades), Greece, ca. 2600-2300 BC, 45 cm.
Like a boss.
(In the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.)
Janson’s History of Art
Andrew Curry, The Cave Art Debate, Smithsonian Mag, March 2012. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-cave-art-debate-100617099/