Exhibitions: The Fertile Goddess

Judy Chicago: Ceramic Goddess #3

Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939). Ceramic Goddess #3 (Study for Goddess Figurine on Fertile Goddess runner), 1977. Glazed ceramic, 10 x 8 1/2 x 3 in. (25.4 x 21.6 x 7.6 cm). Courtesy of ACA Galleries, NYC, and the artist

Judy Chicago’s embodiment of the goddess evokes the rare and earliest known female forms of the Paleolithic period, like the Venus of Willendorf, made about 25,000 years ago. Ceramic Goddess #3 is a larger version of one of four female figurines sewn onto the place setting runner for the Fertile Goddess at The Dinner Party, and one of about a dozen original “little goddesses” that Chicago made at the time. The artist also made an edition of cast goddesses that was used to raise money for The Dinner Party.

Feminist re-examinations and interpretations of ancient female figurines, especially Marija Gimbutas’s The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (1974) and Ilse Seibert’s Women in the Ancient Near East (1974), were a revelation to Chicago. As she explained to this exhibition’s curators:

These goddess figurines and the early plates on the table and names on the floor [of
The Dinner Party] were intended to convey the idea of women's power in early societies, [a] power that gradually declined as patriarchy took shape and was enforced through law and custom. One of the ways in which male dominance is maintained is through the idea that it is and always has been the norm, which was not supported by this goddess imagery.