Bringing yourself in touch with the art & culture of a time period can be achieved easily by narrowing your focus of concentration to a type of art or specific culture. Breaking down art history into its five distinct categories in a recent post, I’ve decided to dive deeply into each era individually, exploring the intricacies of what made ancient art ancient, or what makes modern art modern.
Each month on TonyVanetik.net I have been choosing new eras and specific cultures’ art, and diving into the history and intricacies of what made their artform unique and noteworthy. Going way, way back to the Stone Age, I’ve covered both cave paintings as well as Stonehenge in the past. With such an incredibly wide breadth of art created during this period, it’s easy to focus on entirely new concepts every month almost endlessly. However, this month will wrap up the Stone Age, covering the sculptures and figurines created by our cave-dwelling ancestors.
The Stone Age Part III: Sculptures and Figures
The years (and years, and years and years) that Prehistoric art covers, as well as the categories, subcategories and sub-subcategories that fall under the umbrella are virtually limitless and could be written about ad infinitum. However, my time is not limitless, so instead of dwelling on the prehistoric art that helped to set the stage for that of today, I’ll instead be wrapping up the period with this third and final post on Stone Age (or prehistoric, essentially interchangeable names) art.
When we picture sculptures today, our minds likely wander to one of a few distinct places. Perhaps you’re picturing the likes of the Thinker, the statue of David, the Disc Thrower, or one of the countless sculptures that adorn college campuses across the country. These are the enduring works that draw countless eyes in museums and galleries around the world. They’re coveted so highly for their beautiful intricacies, their size and the symbolism embedded in each curve in the marble they’re sculptured from. The earliest forms of sculpture we’re not made from marble (of course) and were not as intricate or lifelike. In fact, some question whether they’re even art.
Some of the first works of art discovered from the Stone Age are the incredibly primitive, relatively hominid-looking figures such as the Venus of Tan-Tan and the Venus of Berekhat Ram. Both figures are very very rough, relatively human shaped stone carvings, shaped by a sharp piece of stone. Initially thought to be naturally occurring stones that were simply coincidentally shaped the way they are, both figures support the now confirmed via microscopic examinations theory that they were indeed carved–perhaps by the same artist!
Relief sculptures were created on the same or similar cave walls as the oh-so-popular cave paintings of the Stone Age. Perhaps the most well-known and important to modern art is the Tuc d’Audoubert Cave, where over 300 pieces of prehistoric art were discovered, including cave paintings, rock carvings and relief sculptures including a pair of bison made of clay.
The Venus Figurines
Not to be confused with the above early carvings mentioned in the “Primitive Sculptures” section, the Venus figurines were created much later by the cro-magnon people, who proved to be more adept artists than their neanderthal predecessors. The Venus figurines were very small figures that share some similarities with African fertility statues. These statuettes were of women exclusively, and featured oversized hips and breasts. Unlike fertility statues–the purpose of which is known and in the name–the purpose behind the creation of the Venus figurines is still subject to debate. Some historians believe that they were indeed fertility statues, while others claim they are religious artifacts. Without a firm grasp on the role that females and religion played in the Stone Age, no one is quite sure which of the two is correct.
This is hardly the beginning or the end of Stone Age art. But it is the end of my series of art history blogs on it. If you want to explore more stone age art, visit Visual-Arts-Cork.com; if you want to read more about art history, visit TonyVanetik.net.