The tradition of schematic human idols in Neolithic and early Chalcolithic Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) provides an insight into the enormous importance placed on female fertility by the early farming societies of this civilisation. The surviving idols, usually sculpted in clay or stone, are almost always female, often with a pronounced feminine physicality, or, as here, an exaggerated, corpulent figural form, which should be understood as an indicator of the potency of the female. For these early farming communities, fertility and fecundity, of both themselves and the earth they worked, was of paramount concern, determining their very survival. “Woman” was acknowledged as having ‘power over birth, life and death…(hence) as the embodiment of divine creation, the woman was the central figure in the first religion devised by mankind’ (G. Renda (ed.), Woman in Anatolia: 9000 Years of the Anatolian Woman, Istanbul, 1993, p. 11).
Idols and figurines which honoured the woman-goddess were probably used in rituals, or left at shrines. The numerous stone and clay figurines discovered at Catalhöyük, the largest settlement discovered thus far belonging to the Anatolian Ceramic Neolithic period, are well known. The most famous is a baked clay figurine of an extremely fleshy woman, seated on a throne flanked by panthers, who is giving birth – she is the mother-goddess, the ‘most important element’ of the religion of the region (E. Uzunoglu, ibid., p. 20).
The present lot is one of the best surviving examples of the early Chalcolithic period, with the lively face preserving her character. The closest parallel to the present lot is a marble female figure, also dating to the mid-6th Millennium B.C., currently in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara (inv. no. 78-65-65). Of similar scale, with a comparably corpulent form, the round face, full cheeks, long oval eyes, straight nose, incised horizontal mouth and curved ears are strikingly similar. Notably, the Ankara example appears to be unfinished, with some parts only roughly worked; the body of the present lot should perhaps also be considered unfinished.