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  • Palaeolithic

    Portable Art

    Depictions on small, "portable" objects, make the integral part of the Palaeolithic art. (l'art mobilier, portable art).

    There are three types of objects:
    1) statuettes or other three-dimensional objects cut out from soft stone or other materials (antler, mammoth's tusk),
    2) flat objects with engravings and paintings and
    3) small reliefs in caves, grottoes and under natural roofs. One of the first finds on this kind was a reindeer foot-bone from the le Chaffaud grotto with a depiction of two hinds.

    Everyone knows Prosper Merimee, the famous French writer and the author of the fascinating novel "The Chronicle of Karl IX' s reign", "Carmen" and other romantic short stories but only few of us know that he served as an Inspector General of Historical Monuments. It was he, who passed that bone into the newly organized in the center of Paris the historical museum Clouny in 1833. Now the bone is in the Museum of National Antiquities Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Later the cultural layer of the Upper Palaeolithic Period was discovered in the le Chaffaud grotto. But then nobody could believe that art being older then the ancient Egyptian one, as it also was with the Altamira paintings and other fine art Palaeolithic monuments . So, those engravings were interpreted as samples of Celtic art (V-IV cc. BC). Only at the end of the XIX c., after they had been found in the Palaeolithic cultural layer, they were recognized, together with the paintings, the most ancient.

    Women's statuettes, found now and then during excavations of Upper Palaeolithic settlements, attract the closest attention of specialists. At present, more than some dozens of statuettes of this type are known only on the territory of Russia. Together with those, found in Europe, there are more than two hundreds of them. The majority of the figurines are not large: from 4 up to 17 cm. The most characteristic feature is their exaggerated "corpulence", they show women with portly figures. "Venus" from Willendorf and statuettes from Kostienki are the typical ones.

    At the same time there are quite realistic three-dimensional representations. These are, for example, the widely known head, called in France "the lady in a hood", from Brassempouy. And another statuette, found here, but, unfortunately, broken, shows almost the classical proportions of a woman' s figure. Some statuettes from Czechia are made from burnt clay, for example, from Dolni Vestonice site. Still recently they were unique, but not long ago a statuette from burnt clay was found in Siberia, in the Upper Yenisei, at the Maina site. Also in Siberia, in Pribaikalje, a series of peculiar statuettes of another stylistic appearance, was found. Together with the similar, as in Europe, portly figurines of naked women there are statuettes of well-shaped, stretched proportions. Unlike the European ones they are dressed into blank, probably fur overalls. These are finds from sites Bouret' and Malta.

    Almost all the specialists, studied the Palaeolithic women's statuettes, differing in details, interpret them as cultic subjects, amulets, idols etc, reflecting the idea of maternity and fertility. H.Breuil, H.Osborn, P.P.Efimenko and many others wrote about it. Some variants of this idea, having finished a full "cycle", start a new turn. For example, R.McDermot, who is probably not acquainted with Efimenko's books, published in Russian, interprets the statuettes with exaggeratively large abdomens as representations of pregnant women, although Efimenko had written about it as long before as in 1935.




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