Gravettian Art and Culture
History, Characteristics, Chronology of Upper Paleolithic Visual Arts.

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Venus of Moravany (24-22,000 BCE)
Gravettian ivory carving of an obese
female figure. A typical example
of the steatopygous "Venus Figurine"
developed by Gravettian sculptors.
It is among the oldest art of the
central Danube.

Gravettian Art (c.25,000-20,000 BCE)


The Gravettian Era: A Summary
Gravettian Art: History, Characteristics
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Chronology of Upper Paleolithic Art

Aurignacian (40,000 – 25,000 BCE)
Solutrean (20,000 - 15,000 BCE)
Magdalenian (15,000 - 10,000 BCE)

Late Stone Age Culture

Mesolithic Art (10,000 to about 6,000 BCE)
Neolithic Art (about 6,000 to about 2,000 BCE)

The Gravettian Era: A Summary

In Stone Age art, the term "Gravettian" describes a 5,000-year period of Upper Paleolithic art and culture, named after the type site "La Gravette", a tongue of land in the Dordogne. Building on Aurignacian traditions, Gravettian artists took prehistoric sculture to a new advanced level, as shown by the Venus Figurines which appeared across Europe. Other notable prehistoric art of this period include the hand stencils in Cosquer Cave (c.25,000 BCE) close to Marseilles, and the Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle (c.25,000 BCE) near Cahors. In addition, Gravettian expertise in pointed blade technology led to greater refinement in petroglyphs and engravings. In fact, Gravettian culture is traditionally separated into two regions: the western Gravettian, largely known from cave sites in France, and the eastern Gravettian, known from cave sites like Buran-Kaya in the Crimea and Kozarnika in Bulgaria. The culture appeared in France about 25,000 BCE, by which time the species of Homo Sapiens known as Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) had been ousted by anatomically modern humans (Cro-Magnons), who had entered Europe from Africa and the Middle East some 15,000 years before. During this process, Neanderthals retreated to the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula and, by about 20,000 BCE, most were extinct.

Note: The Gravettian era was preceded by the Aurignacian era and succeeded by the Solutrean. (See: Prehistoric Art Timeline.)

Gravettian Art: History, Characteristics

The art of the Gravettian era is characterized above all by its small scale mobiliary art, in the form of venus statuettes - mostly ivory carvings or limestone and other soft stone carvings - as well as a primitive form of sculptural ceramic art. The focus on portable sculpture may have been linked to a deterioration in the weather conditions as a result of a worsening of the Ice Age across Europe, during the period 22,000-17,000 BCE. Meantime its cave art - notably its cave painting and engraving - became more precise, as evidenced by excavations in the rock shelters of the Dordogne (Pech-Merle, Labatut, Pechialet, Laugerie-Haute), the Mediterranean coast (Cosquer cave), and the Basque region (Isturlitz). In addition, Gravettian artists are known to have made a significant contribution to the Altamira cave paintings in the Spanish district of Cantabria.

Chronology of Gravettian Culture

The following major works of fine art can be assigned to Gravettian culture. (Read all about the Earliest Art of Prehistory.)

Venus of Dolni Vestonice (26,000-24,000 BCE)
The oldest known terracotta sculpture in the world, this unique figurine was discovered at a Stone Age settlement in the Moravian basin south of Brno, in the Czech Republic.

Venus of Monpazier (c.25,000 BCE)
Carved in limonite, the steatopygous Venus of Monpazier was discovered in 1970, near the village of Monpazier in the Dordogne region of France. It is dated to early Gravettian culture (25,000-20,000 BCE).

Venus of Willendorf (c.25,000 BCE)
Sculpted from yellowish oolitic limestone Sculpture, this steatopygous Gravettian statuette - like the Dolni Vestonice venus - is part of the permanent collection of parietal art in the Natural History Museum in Vienna.

Cosquer Cave Paintings (c.25,000 BCE)
Only accessible via a 500-foot underwater passage, due to a rise in sea level which destroyed 80 percent of its cave art, Cosquer still has a fascinating range of paintings and drawings including: 65 hand stencils and other pictographs, now on display at the National Museum of Archeology, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Cussac Cave Engravings (c.25,000 BCE)
Discovered in 2000, near Le Buisson-de-Cadouin in the Dordogne, its parietal rock engravings of bison, horses and mammoths are similar in style to images in the Quercy caves, notably Pech Merle.

Pech-Merle Cave Paintings (c.25,000 BCE)
This Gravettian cave complex, near Cabrerets in the Midi-Pyrenees, is one of the few decorated prehistoric caves in France which remain open to the public - is famous for its dramatic wall paintings, notably its multi-coloured images of Dappled Horses. (For details of colour pigments used by Magdalenian artists, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette.)

Gargas Cave Hand Stencils (25,000 BCE)
Best known for its stencilled images of disfigured hands.

Venus of Savignano (c.24,000 BCE)
This armless serpentine stone female carving found at Savignano sul Punaro, near Modena, has been dated to the Gravettian Period after stylistic comparisons with other known venus effigies.

Venus of Moravany (24,000 BCE)
Found in 1938 close to the village of Moravany nad Vahom, in the Piestany district of western Slovakia, this ivory carving belongs to the Willendorf-Kostenkian or Upper Gravettian period.

Roucadour Cave Art (c.24,000 BCE)
Includes some very vivid hand stencils, engraved drawings of animals and birds, and a large quantity of abstract signs.

Cougnac Cave (first phase, c.23,000)
Discovered in 1952 near Gourdon, in the Lot, the cave features paintings and charcoal drawings of deer, megaloceros, ibex and mammoths, as well as various human-type figures (painted during a second phase in the Magdalenian era), almost identical to figures at Pech Merle.

Venus of Laussel (c.23,000 BCE)
This 18-inch high limestone bas-relief of a reclining nude female, decorated with red ochre, was found in a rock shelter in the Dordogne. This unique piece of Franco-Cantabrian cave art is currently on display in the Musee d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux.

Venus of Brassempouy (c.23,000 BCE)
This Gravettian ivory carving of the face and head of a female was discovered (1894) in the 'Pope's Cave' in 1894, along with eight other human figures. This cave, along with the 'Gallery of the Hyenas' is located near the village of Brassempouy, in the Landes district of southwestern France.

Salmon of Abri du Poisson Cave (c.23,000 BCE)
Discovered in 1892, this relief sculpture of a salmon, decorated with red ochre, carved on the ceiling of the shelter is one of only ten fish that appear in Paleolithic cave art. In addition it also has a few prehistoric abstract signs, such as scalariforms.

Venus of Lespugue (c.23,000 BCE)
This highly stylized 6-inch statuette carved out of tusk ivory is noted for its huge pendulous breasts, and for its unique depiction of spun thread in the form of a skirt hanging below the hips. It was found in 1922 in the Rideaux cave of Lespugue, in the Haute-Garonne region.

Coa Valley Engravings, Portugal (22,000 BCE)
The oldest open air rock art in Europe, and the largest open air site of Paleolithic art in the world, with thousands of outdoor rock engravings of animals and human figures.

Venus of Kostenky (c.22,000 BCE)
Carved from mammoth tusk, the Venus of Kostenky was found at a hunter-gatherer settlement by the Don river in southern Russia. It is the oldest known prehistoric sculpture in Russia. See also: Russian Art (22,000 BCE - 1920 CE)

Venus of Gagarino (c.20,000 BCE)
There is in fact a group of Gagarino venuses, carved out of volcanic rock as well as ivory, all of which have been dated to the Gravettian era. They include a "double venus", a "praying venus", a "decorated venus" and a "tall venus". All were found at a settlement excavated at Gagarino, near Lipetsk, not far north of the well known Kostenky sites in the Voronezh region.

Avdeevo Venuses (c.20,000 BCE)
The third site of the Voronezh-Lipetsk-Kursk triangle in central Russia. The Avdeevo figurines include a "double venus", and a dozen other figures, along with some ivory carvings of mammoths.

Mal'ta Venuses (c.20,000 BCE)
Like the Gagarino figurines, the Ma'ta Venus is one of several steatopygous female figures carved out of ivory which were discovered by the Angara River, near Lake Baikal in Siberia. They are now displayed at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Zaraysk Venuses (c.20,000 BCE)
A pair of Avdeevo-style female figurines carved from the tusk of a mammoth found at a site near Bryansk, which is also famous for its true-to-life carving of a bison.

See also: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 Artworks.

Related Articles About Stone Age Art

For information about the large stones (petroforms) which were used to create monuments during the late Paleolithic and Neolithic eras, please see the following:

Nawarla Gabarnmang Rock Shelter (26,000 BCE)
Australian aboriginal art contemporaneous with Gravettian culture. See also: Kimberley Rock Art and Burrup Peninsula Rock Art.

Megalithic Art (c.9000-2000 BCE)
An introduction to megalithic architecture and art, looking at Gavrinis, Zuschen Tomb, Newgrange, Stonehenge and Knowth, among other sites.

Gobekli Tepe (c.9500 BCE)
An introduction to this famous Turkish settlement, the world's oldest known religious site.

El Castillo Cave Paintings (39,000 BCE)
The oldest known example of parietal art.


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