The Development of the Human Form from the Paleolithic to the Aegean Age. Lindsay Schultze ARTH 3121

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1 Schultze 1 The Development of the Human Form from the Paleolithic to the Aegean Age Lindsay Schultze ARTH 3121 September 15, 2012

2 Schultze 2 Seeing the art progressing from the Paleolithic into the Aegean age is similar to looking at a drawing from a child and a drawing from a college art student. In the child s drawing, there are subtle acknowledgements to the elements of art and space. The artwork of a child is more expressive rather than an attempt to perfectly mimic the physical world. However, observing the artwork of a college art student, knowledge of space and color and value is reflected in the work. The student shows a much better understanding of how to depict the physical world clearly in another medium. The student also knows enough about the rules of art to drastically change certain aspects of the real world into his or her piece in order to send a specific message. In this analogy, the Paleolithic age is to the child s drawing as the Aegean age is to the college student s drawing. Paleolithic art did not dwell on detail. Artwork coming out of this era consisted mainly of cave art and small sculptures. These artworks primarily reflected on basic essentials for survival. One such aspect of survival was shown in the series of Venus figures that were created in this time period. Such figures can be seen in the found sculpture, Venus of Willendorf 1. This sculpture was found in Willendorf, Austria and dates back anywhere from 25,000 to 21,000 B.C. II. Carved out of limestone and standing approximately four inches in height, this sculpture mainly portrayed the female figure. In the sculpture, one can detect a noted exaggeration in the breasts, torso, and upper thighs while areas such as the neck and arms are almost unidentifiable. Archaeologists have theorized that the artist of this sculpture purposely stylized parts of 1 Venus of Willendorf. Art Across Time. Page. 27

3 Schultze 3 the female body that dealt with reproduction and fertility, one of the primary motives for survival at the time. The Venus figure can be found in artworks from other regions in the prehistoric era. The low relief sculpture of Venus of Laussel 2, found in Laussel, Dordogne, France contains similar characteristics of the female figure as the Venus of Willendorf. The Venus figure was even found in Ancient Near Eastern sculptures. In Catal Huyuk, Turkey, a clay sculpture was found that dated into the Neolithic era: the Anatolian Goddess 3 figure giving birth. This goddess figure shows traits that are very similar to the Venus of Willendorf. There is similar exaggeration to the breasts and torso. These types of stylizations carried through into the Neolithic age, but they expanded to different meanings. In the Neolithic age, humans over all regions of the world began to form a social hierarchy. Mesopotamian Kings and Egyptian Pharaohs were portrayed in a stylized and abstracted manner for the purpose of setting them apart from society. An example of such portrayals can be seen in the Statues of the Abu Temple at Tell Asmar 4. These sculptures, dating back to 2700 and 2500 B.C. were a few of the many sculpted figures created during the Early Dynastic Period in Sumer. These sculptures were made rigid in figure, with their eyes and hair being abstracted. These acts of stylization on the figures are known as hierarchical proportions, meaning that their shape and form reflected their social status. Furthermore, this representation of social status was carried out into ancient Egyptian art as well. 2 Venus of Laussel. Art Across Time. Page Anatolian goddess giving birth. Art Across Time. Page Statues from the Abu Temple at Tell Asmar. Art Across Time. Page. 57

4 Schultze 4 Egyptian art seems to emphasize more on the supernatural. Egyptians were highly in tuned with the afterlife and the human spirit, known to them as the Ka. From this interest in the supernatural and the afterlife, Pharaohs were seen as demi-gods of sorts. This interpretation of Pharaohs can be seen in their portrayals in sculptures and hieroglyphics. Like that of the Ancient Near East, Egyptian royalty was portrayed in a stylized manner, while lower class citizens of Egypt were created looking more natural and relatable to the human figure. Pharaohs and other upperclassmen were portrayed in a hieratic scale, meaning that artists portrayed them at a larger scale than that of their lower class subjects. Royalty was represented in the artwork as the figure looking rigid and abstract. Material hierarchy also played a role in portraying Egyptians; basically, valuable materials were used in portraying high-class citizens while less valuable materials were used for the lower class. These aspects can be seen when comparing the sculptures of Prince Rahotep and his wife Nofret 5 and the Seated Scribe 6. Sculptures represent Egyptians of totally different social ranking, such can be seen in the materials used to sculpt the respective subjects and also the way the human form is depicted. For instance, the prince s and his wife s form are disproportional, making them look rigid and abstract. On the other hand, the Seated Scribe is seen looking much more natural and relatable to the human form. The use of hieratic scale and material hierarchy began to die out in the Aegean age. While the artwork in this age was influenced by Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern artwork, there was no definite concept of a social hierarchy brought into the artwork. The themes of the artwork were also different from Egypt and the Ancient Near East. Themes 5 Prince Rahotep and his wife Nofret. Art Across Time. Page Seated Scribe. Art Across Time. Page. 95

5 Schultze 5 coming from the Aegean age were more inclined to nature, primarily marine life. There were aspects of everyday life shown in the artwork as well. However, one major factor in Aegean art was the increased knowledge of three-dimensional space. Artwork in the other ages showed very subtle acknowledgements to three-dimensional space. Cave art in the prehistoric era showed a slight understanding by overlapping figures. That understanding grew a small amount in the Neolithic era, in works such as the sculpture in the round of King Assurnasirpal II 7. However, both of these ages did not show as great an understanding of three-dimensional space as the Aegean age showed. In the prehistoric and Neolithic era, the human form was still seen relatively flat, lacking extensive use of proportions and foreshortening. The Aegean era brought about what was probably the first more noticeable acknowledgement to the dimensions of the human body. The fresco paining of the Crocus Gatherer 8, dating back to pre-1500 B.C. shows more understanding of a more organic human form. While there are aspects of the Crocus Gatherer that still pertain to Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern art, there is a significant understanding of three dimensional human form, particularly in the slight foreshortening of the legs of the figure. This simple notification in the artwork marked the humans grown understanding and development of the human form. 7 King Assurnasirpal II. Art Across Time. Page Crocus Gatherer. Art Across Time. Page. 126

6 Schultze 6

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