by Richard W. Wise
Paleo artists did not limit themselves to drawing, painting and bas-relief; also produced three-dimensional sculpture. These include the famous "Venus" or Dolni figures. The oldest thus far, the Venus of Hohle Fels, dated to the Aurignacian Period (30-40,000 BP), was found in Germany.
These are sculptures of women. Many, though not all, are headless and naked with wide hips, bulging stomachs, legs and distinctly defined vulvas. This has led many experts to view them as votive or fertility objects or perhaps goddesses.
There are stylistic similarities, but they are not all the same. There are fat ones and skinny ones, compact and attenuated Venuses. Some are more, some less abstract. Some, particularly the French examples, are naked (naturally), but some, most notably those found in what is now Russia, are fully clothed. These Russian examples have been tagged: "Venuses in furs." The small statues range from Siberia to Northern Italy and are between 40,000-10,000 years old, attesting to an astonishing artistic continuity.
Like the work of Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore, and Louise Bourgeois---artists strongly influenced by cave art---they demonstrate a very sophisticated ability to reduce form from complex to simple while retaining the essential and evocative.
This artistic sensibility was not limited to Western Europe or to the female figure. A recent discovery of a 13,500-year-old bird figurine at Linjin in Henan Province demonstrates a similar ability to capture the essential. Though not a representation of the human form, the artist who created this Paleolithic bird reduced and captured what Constantin Brâncuși called: "not the outer form but the idea, the essence of things." For Brâncuși, the abstract is the more real because it captures that essence.
The female form is a recurring figure in Western art. The Venus figures represent a high-water mark in Prehistoric art.
Next: The Art of the Neanderthals