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The Role Art has Played in Human Reproduction

Updated on March 17, 2014

Venus of Willendorf- Fertility Statue

Artists have been using their art to enhance fertility in women since the dawn of time.
Artists have been using their art to enhance fertility in women since the dawn of time.

The Role of Artists in Human Reproduction

Besides gathering food, having children is essential to the survival of the human race. Throughout the ages, artists have created artworks that have aided, symbolized and depicted human fertility through their work. The art includes small charm-like figurines, sexually explicit sculptures, phallic symbols, fetishes, erotic prints, and photographs.

While some art was created to secure food, some to protect food and some to show thanks for an abundant food supply, other art was created to ensure production, protect conceived children and give thanks to the gods for the gift of human reproduction.

Fertility Gods and Goddesses

Some of the earliest artifacts thoughts to relate to human fertility were found in the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods of history. Some were small sculptures of female figures depicted as abundantly fleshy and swollen, with their bellies, breasts and thighs accentuated. This figures are called "Fertility or Mother Goddesses," suggesting that they were part of a fertility ritual or cult. One famous fertility statue from this time period is the Venus of Willendorf statue, a well rounded abstract female figure carved from a egg-shaped piece of limestone.

Although often labeled as a fertility goddess, it is likely the figurine was more of a charm or fetish used to invoke the magic of the art object and the stone itself. Both the egg shape, and the natural round indentation that became the figure's navel were starting points for the artist. The figure clearly does not realistically represent someone, but rather represents the abstract essence of fertility.

Fertility Statues Have Been Used for Ages to Enhance Human Reproduction

Fertility Figures Created by Artists

Unlike fertility gods and goddesses, fertility figures were created by artists to aid human reproduction through the magic and power they contained. The need for successful human reproduction was important to all cultures and because of this, artists would create figurines made from clay, faience, linen and reed in order to help promote human reproduction. The figurines would resemble doll-like figures, usually with their genitals emphasized to ensure fertility and long life. In order for the figurines to be effective, a person would have to be spiritually prepared so that the magic, or "medicine" of the statue, would work.

Dogon African Statue- The Primordial Male

This African statue is of the primordial male, the first man. It shows him sitting tall and proud.
This African statue is of the primordial male, the first man. It shows him sitting tall and proud. | Source

Art Depicting Primordial and Human Couples

Human couples have been depicted in art throughout the ages. Some of the couples represented were the primordial or first couple, the mother and father of humankind. Others are human couples who represent the ritual of marriage and its implications within cultural contexts. These depictions were rooted in creation myths of many religions. They also come from marriage rituals that frame procreation in many cultures.

The Dogon culture of Africa represented the Primordial Couple seated on an "inago mundi" (image of the world" stool supported by four figures. Stately and formal, the Dogon statue relates the harmony of union between the first male and female.

Art Depicting Lovemaking

The act of lovemaking is of course essential to procreation and thus is an appropriate subject for artists covering human reproduction. Some of this works have strong religious connotations. Erotic works are also part of sexuality and gender identity, which relates to procreation.

One of the most beautiful works of art depicting lovers was done by the famous Japanese printmaker Kitagawa Utamaro, known as the best of the "Golden Age" wood block designers in Japan. Utamaro designed A Pair of Lovers, which provocatively depicts erotica. The work centered around female beauty, the theater and entertainment.

Jeff Koons, a contemporary artist in the United States, has approached acts of love through large paintings, small sculptures, and live performances. His paintings and sculptures depict various erotic poses.

The Female Form Depicted by Artists

Images of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Prognency

Images of childbirth are seen in many cultures and have existed for ages. Mother and child imagery is widespread across many cultures. Effigy vessels were used during the Mississippi Period (1200-1400) to honor the pregnant woman. This ceramic statues would be used in rituals to protect mothers and their children.

In the Catholic church, painted frescoes were created to honor and show praise to the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. These paintings emphasized Mary's divinity, love and compassion.

The Role of Art in Fertility and Reproduction

Art promoting human reproduction has taken many forms and contexts, among which are sculptures, drawings, paintings, and more. All of these are used to ensure, teach, record and document human fertility and reproduction.

Early small figurative sculptures of fertility gods and goddesses found in the Stone Ages and later on in early Greek cultures are interpreted to have aided human beings to reproduce. Through the power of the Venus of Willendorf, human fertility may have been secured.

Sculptures and paintings have witnessed, documented and commemorated the coupling and marrying of human beings. The intimacy and ecstasy of lovers has always been a subject of art. Perhaps it is the powerful human need for emotional love and physical pleasure that motivates artists to express this.

The need to reproduce in order to preserve life is basic for human survival. Also ostensibly basic is the artwork that helps, depicts and celebrates the continuation of the human race.

Art and Reproduction Poll

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    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image

      Kathleen Odenthal 4 years ago from Bridgewater

      Thanks Kevin!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 4 years ago


      It was an interesting article Kathleen Odenthal. I learned some things about art which I had not known but I would think that something like this would change over time. Especially with Woman's Lib, etc. - but that is only the way which I feel. Otherwise I believe that it would be a very useful Hub for learning. I voted it up and shared it.


    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image

      Kathleen Odenthal 4 years ago from Bridgewater

      Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, I learned a lot of information while writing this hub!

    • cecileportilla profile image

      Cecile Portilla 4 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Hi Kathleen Odenthal:

      Very interesting post on the symbolism of art. Never would have guessed that art played a role in human reproduction. Vote up!