Seated female figure, artist unknown (Çatalhöyük settlement), c. 6000 BCE, baked clay, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara.
Time to take feminist art history back to the stone age! Let’s get critical.
The Neolithic Europeans made some brilliant sculptures of fat ladies, but this fact doesn’t automatically mean that they were living in feminist utopian bliss. Personally I suspect the “Old European” hunter gatherers may have had it together a little more in gender equality terms than the proto-Indo-Europeans - but all I mean is that both genders lived lives that were nasty, brutish and short.
It’s unlikely that some sort of Neolithic Mother-Goddess was dethroned by an incoming Indo-European patriarchy. This is mostly because it’s unlikely that she ever ruled supreme to begin with. Sure, there are plenty of figurines from sites like Çatalhöyük showing chubby female forms. But there are lots of other figurines too; only 3% of the figurines at Çatalhöyük are unambiguously female. It’d make more sense to say that these people worshipped androgynes!
Besides, saying that “female representations = worship of women” is a little like saying that the women appearing on pornos and magazine covers today display our society’s respect and reverence for the sacred female form. Hmmm.
NEVERTHELESS: the ancient-ancients knew how to portray a kick-ass lady, regardless of why they chose to. Exhibit A, the leopard-lady from Çatalhöyük. Is she a goddess? Nobody knows. Is she a bad-ass mofo? Definitely - c’mon, she has leopards! And if you look closely, some people have suggested that she’s quite calmly giving birth while seated.