Venus Figurines

Through a viral tweet I discovered a research paper by Catherine Hodge McCoid and Leroy D. McDermott from the University of Central Missouri in which they argue that the earliest sculptures of the female nude commonly known as the Venus figurines may well have been created by women.

The paper Toward Decolonizing Gender: Female Vision in the Upper Palaeolithic (published in the American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 98, No. 2 (Jun., 1996), pp. 319-326) compares images taken looking down the body to how they match closely to the top down view of the sculptures. In a way they are self portraits before the invention of the mirror.

The authors ask the question why it has taken so long to consider that a female point of view was involved in the creation of these pieces. And twenty two years later it is still a surprise to many (me included) that the very first depictions of the female nude could have been created by women.

In what is considered the “bible” of the human body in art, The Nude by Kenneth Clark, describes the Venus figurines as

the bulging statuettes from palaeolithic caves, which emphasise the female attributes till they are little more than symbols of fertility

There is no suggestion from the text that the creators of the sculptures could have been women. Instead, from my reading of his book, suggests that it is the beginning of an evolution of female nudes created by men. To me this is a big omission.

Having investigated this a bit more, the British Museum in 2013 did have an exhibition called Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind in which it featured these sculptures of the female form.

They too argue that they were “made by women for women”.

I am not ashamed to say that I learnt something new today. Which is more than I can say when I was in a Waterstones bookshop the other day.

On the shelves was a copy of Nudes by David Lynch and it struck me how similar this book was to Nude by Ralph Gibson. The style and posing are virtually the same and so to are the ages and ethnicity of the (young) women.

I reviewed Gibson’s book back in 2013 and it did make me a bit sad that one of the creative forces behind the original and outlandish Twin Peaks TV series and Blue Velvet film, just did a recreation rather than trying something different. To be fair David Lynch may never have heard of Ralph Gibson. But it does question why two men produced very similar styles of work years apart from one another.

Judging by these two books, it seems the evolution of the art nude has got stuck with the same tune.