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Women In Art History

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From Pre-History to the Roman Empire

Venus of Willendorf

Eirene and Plutus

Assignment #1 - Reading from Women Artists in History -  Chapters 1-6/pages 12 -55

The Venus of Willendorf was excavated at Willendorf, Austria and has come to represent the goddess figure most familiar to those studying the feminist perspective. This statuette was created in the Upper Paleolithic Era - between 25,000 B.C. and 23,000 B.C.

Although several of these maternal looking staues have survived the ravages of time, they neither give us information about whether the creators were actually the women themselves or whether they were created by men.  There has, in recent years, been some speculation that the survival of so many of the 'venus' type statues indicates the some sort of organized societal monarchies existed in the prehistoric era, however, the argument of such societies still continues in mainstream anthropology. 

During the periods from the third millennium B.C. thru the Roman Empire, there are chronicles in history of women who not only worked, controlled property, held stations, but also were considered to be patrons of the arts. However this is not universally true of all areas. The empires of the Near East, Crete, Greece, and Rome though close in proximity, had very different traditions and recordings of the treatment of women in their societies. 

There is also evidence that the first women artists in recorded history made their appearance in Hellenistic texts. 

Information to start conversations for the threaded discussion on this unit.

You may comment on any aspect of the reading from this section in the first threaded discussion on our forum. Below I have listed some starting prompts that may spark further thought and reflection.

Some points to consider and discuss in this unit might be:

  • What effects did the economic status of women in Crete, Greece and Rome have on their involvement in the arts? Who were the women patrons? What influence did they have on the type of work that was produced?
  • Discuss the connection between domestic crafts and artistic instruction during this period, and the types of crafts that women were engaged in producing.
  • What impact did motherhood and sexuality have on the representation of women in the art of the pre-historic era?
  • Who are the first women painters known by name? From what part of the world did they originate? What do we know about their development as artists?


Recommended reading for this unit:
Kleiner, Diana E.E. , and Susan B, Matheson, I Claudia:Women in Ancient Rome(New Haven, CT:Yale Univeristy Art Gallery, 1996)
Lefkrowitz, Mary, Women's Life in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook in Translation,2nd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press 1992)