Venus of Laussel
Prehistoric Limestone Bas-Relief Sculpture, Stone Age Gravettian Culture.

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The Venus of Laussel.
This limestone carving is one of the
earliest relief sculptures, and ranks
among the world's oldest art.

Venus of Laussel (c.23,000 BCE)


Location and Characteristics
Analysis and Interpretation
Other Prehistoric Venus Sculptures

For the 100 most ancient artworks, see: Oldest Stone Age Art.



Belonging to the series of Venus figurines found in countries throughout Europe - including France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, and Ukraine - the Venus of Laussel is a prehistoric sculpture carved in bas-relief, which was discovered in 1911 by J.G.Lalanne in the commune of Marquay, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. Regarded as an unique work of Franco-Cantabrian cave art, it is now part of the permanent collection of the Musee d'Aquitaine in Bordeaux. It is one of two famous examples of relief sculpture from the era of Gravettian art. (The other is the bas-relief of a salmon in the Abri du Poisson Cave (c.23,000 BCE), also located in the French Dordogne. Other rare and important sites of Paleolithic stone reliefs include: Roc-de-Sers Cave (17,200 BCE) in the Charente; the lengthy Cap Blanc Frieze (15,000 BCE) in the Dordogne, close to the site of Laussel itself; and the frieze at Roc-aux-Sorciers (c.12,000 BCE), in the Vienne.

NOTE: The Venus of Laussel is not connected with the older and more primitive humanoid effigies known as the Venus of Berekhat Ram and the Venus of Tan-Tan.



Location and Characteristics

Measuring 17.5 inches in height, and originally decorated with colour pigments made from red ochre, the Venus of Laussel was one of 6 bas-relief sculptures engraved on a large free-standing block of limestone, in the Laussel rock shelter located not far from Lascaux, home of the Lascaux Cave paintings, from the Late Solutrean, Early Magdalenian era. Unlike other famous Stone Age venus statuettes, like the Russian Venus of Kostenky, the Lower Austrian Venus of Willendorf and Venus of Galgenberg, and the steatopygous Venus of Monpazier (c.25,000 BCE), the Laussel work is not portable, and is therefore classified as parietal art, rather than mobiliary art. Even so, it does share a number of iconographic characteristics with its portable sisters. To begin with, it depicts a nude female figure, with pendulous breasts and exaggeratedly wide hips and buttocks. In addition, it has no facial features, and no feet. However, unlike other figurines, the Venus of Laussel has clearly visible hands and fingers. Her left hand is placed upon her belly, while her right hand holds an object - probably a bison horn - upon which is engraved a series of 13 lines.

Analysis and Interpretation

This type of Paleolithic art is traditionally regarded as a form of fertility symbolism. In the case of the Venus of Laussel, the inclusion of the horn with its 13 notches may refer to the 13 days of the waxing moon or the 13 months of the lunar year, and may thus be associated with either menstruation and fertility, or other ritualistic lunar issues. The position of the left hand on the swollen belly (due to the convex rock surface) of the figure may also be meaningful. The totemic value of the work is confirmed by the fact that the rock shelter in which it was found is believed to have been a ceremonial venue rather than a dwelling site. Curiously, on the right-hand side of the sculpture there is a tiny engraving of a feather-shaped penniform symbol, one of the abstract signs commonly used in Paleolithic parietal art.

Note: to see how the Laussel relief fits into the evolution of other types of cave art created during the Ice Age in europe, please see: Prehistoric Art Timeline.

Other Prehistoric Venus Sculptures

Forming their own unique category of Stone Age art, Venus figurines have been excavated from archeological sites throughout Europe from the Atlantic to Lake Baikal. Only a few examples - like the Venus of Hohle Fels (38,000-33,000 BCE) - date back to the era of Aurignacian art (40,000-26,000 BCE). Most were created during the Gravettian (26,000-20,000 BCE). They include the Venus of Dolni Vestonice (c.26,000 BCE), the Venus of Savignano (c.24,000), the Venus of Moravany (c.24,000), the Venus of Brassempouy (23,000), the Venus of Lespugue (23,000), the Venus of Gagarino (20,000), the Avdeevo Venuses (c.20,000), the Mal'ta Venuses (c.20,000) and the Zaraysk Venuses (20,000 BCE). For a later ivory figurine from the Magdalenian period, please see the Venus of Eliseevichi (14,000 BCE).

• For more about the oldest Stone Age artifacts, see: Earliest Art.
• For information about Paleolithic painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

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