Last weekend, while reading an art history book, I came across a familiar face dubbed “The Thinker”. No, it wasn’t Michelangelo’s Lorenzo de Medici lost in thought, and it wasn’t Rodin’s famous sculpture either. It was the original, Neolithic version of “The Thinker”. When was the last time I had seen it? It must have been in grade 5 history class that I became acquainted with it, and never thought about it ever since. And now there he was, in all his glory, looking back at me in the company of another piece called “Seated Woman”.
“Is this couple so famous that it became part of art history books?”I marveled. I was very impressed!
The two clay statuettes were found in Cernavoda, Romania, in 1956, in a tomb near the river Danube. They originate from the Hamangia culture, an early farming society emerging in the sixth millennium B.C. They were found among other similar but headless figurines. There is no unanimous agreement on the age of the artifacts, various sources dating them somewhere between 2500 B.C. and 6000 B.C.
There are plenty of other statuettes from the Neolithic, but none of what I’ve seen display the high degree of care for form, gesture and emotional involvement. These figurines are clearly the work of an artist.
The woman is depicted in a casual way, sitting with arms resting on one knee. Her robust thighs and hips follow the usual Neolithic approach to femininity (i.e. abundance and fertility), but the well defined hands are positioned softly and gently on the knee. The portrayal of the woman is executed with sensibility and subtlety uncharacteristic to that age.
Can it get any better than this? It sure can! The maker shows even more concern for the male figure. He is seated on a meticulously modelled and realistic stool. Lost in thought, his facial expression and suggestive gesture show anguish and worry. The artist made a conscious effort to articulate his subject’s state of mind. If the statuettes were to be used for nothing but religious ritualistic purposes, he would have not bothered with that. I suspect he made the figures for his own pleasure, like all artists do. The heavily stylized anatomy and facial expression look very contemporary to our eyes. The Thinker’s arresting presence conveys that perhaps what we are witnessing is one of the beginning moments of art where a personal aesthetic and independent thought take priority over the generalized tastes of the collective. And what a huge leap is that for humanity! Thousands of years of progress follow, a lengthy but steady evolution, until art arrives back to where it had started. I keep thinking that Brancusi himself could have carved these figures! Art has indeed come full circle…
This novelty is a Romanian coin dedicated to The Thinker:
The picture below demonstrates the draw of these statuettes even in the present day. Artists and artisans are inspired by the mastery of these figures. These are contemporary copies of the sculptures.
And lastly, this is my sculpture inspired by these two figurines, titled “Evolution”. For more pictures follow the link: https://erikatakacs.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/evolution-new-sculpture/