The Venus of Lespugue
"I am that which began, out of me the years roll..."
The Venus of Lespugue is one of the masterpieces of Ice Age art. She was found in 1922 by R. and S. de Saint-P'rier in the Cave of Rideaux, at Lespugue in the Haute-Garonne) in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Created from mammoth tusk ivory, the statuette, measures 5.75" high; the front was badly damaged during excavation. It comes from an Upper Perigordian level, dated approximately 21,000 BCE, contemporary to the Gravettian cultural period. The original artifact is part of the collection belonging to the Muse de l'Homme.
More ink has been spilled on the topic of such Venus figurines than on any other Paleolithic artifacts. Many theories abound in both scientific and metaphysical circles about their origins, meaning and purpose. They form a tantalizing portal into our ancient past, which we peer through in an effort to understand our own origins, meaning and purpose. Speculations have included that they were fertility fetishes, gynecological teaching devices, primitive erotica, religious art and/or self portraits or all of the above.
According to textile experts Elizabeth Wayland Barber, or Olga Soffer of the University of Illinois, the statue displays the earliest representation found of spun thread, as the carving shows a skirt hanging from below the hips, made of twisted fibers, frayed at the end. Soffer says: "It depicts a fiber-weaving technology that until recently we didn't know existed in the Stone Age."
Margherita Mussi of the University of Rome points out that the Venus of Lespugue can be viewed as portraying two women, one of them upside down; the skirt is also the hair of the upside-down woman. The incorporation of multiple images into a single sculpture was a fairly common artistic convention in Ice Age art, along with an abstraction of form most prominently recognized in the Venus figurines.
LeRoy McDermott asks: "Is the physical point of view represented in these figures that of the self or of another?" From a self-viewing perspective, such figurines represent normally proportioned women of average weight at different stages in their biological lives. What has been seen as obesity or exaggerated sexual characteristics is actually a strongly foreshortened view of the woman's own chest and belly while the breasts, being close to the eyes, loom large in the visual field.
To Paleolithic humanity Mother Nature was no distant abstraction, removed from the self by layers of concrete, steel and air conditioning. Living immersed in the urgencies of life: the blood of hunting or birth, the dirt of gathering, the wet and cold while seeking shelter or building a fire, the pleasant or harsh social and sexual realities of tribal life, the challenge of raising children in the snow with cave lions for neighbors, the pride of creating beautiful tools, clothing and art out of whatever was around you, Stone-Age people were embedded in Nature, Her sounds and smells and sights surrounded them.
The Earth provided Her bounty and the gift of freedom but life was also lived close to the edge: a misplaced spear thrust or a misidentified mushroom left a cold and empty body to give back to the Earth. Birth was a miracle but so was Death, and both occurred up close and personal everyday with no polite screens drawn. People could not help but make the connection between everyday life and the sacred, between the world of the flesh and of the spirit, between Nature and the Divine.
The Lespugue image with her graceful, abstracted curves like a basket of eggs, demonstrates that connection. She represents the Great Mother Goddess, the universal female principle in Her most primordial conception. She is the Earth, the fertility and the continuation of life. Female figures such as this one are found from the Pyrenees mountains to Siberia, indicating that East and West were once united in honoring the Goddess. The vast majority (over 90%) of human images from 30,000 to 5,000 B.C.E. are female. Women were recognized as the life-givers and sustainers and revered as priestesses and shamans.
Once a woman held a chunk of a mammoth tusk in her hand, which might even have cost the lifeblood of a beloved partner; she looked down at her own pregnant body and felt the tides of Nature stirring. She created a perfect image of the Divine Creative Force as seen from her every vantage point: She made the Venus of Lespugue.
Name: Venus of Lespugue
Size: 5.5" Tall