Era: A Summary
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: 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.
of Gravettian Culture
The following major works of fine
art can be assigned to Gravettian culture. (Read all about the Earliest
Art of Prehistory.)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
Cave Hand Stencils (25,000 BCE)
Best known for its stencilled images of disfigured hands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Gabarnmang Rock Shelter (26,000 BCE)
Australian aboriginal art contemporaneous with Gravettian culture. See
also: Kimberley Rock Art and Burrup
Peninsula Rock Art.
Art (c.9000-2000 BCE)
An introduction to megalithic architecture and art, looking at Gavrinis,
Zuschen Tomb, Newgrange, Stonehenge and Knowth, among other sites.
An introduction to this famous Turkish settlement, the world's oldest
known religious site.
Castillo Cave Paintings (39,000 BCE)
The oldest known example of parietal art.