The great mothers of prehistory

As stated earlier, it was difficult to find prehistoric family portraits, but it is certain that the family already answered the need for basic management of social order, above all for reproduction and management of offspring. An early form of portrait is, in a sense, a family portrait. It is represented by the so-called Venus figurines. This represents the first time a human subject is represented alone, probably as a form of fertility goddess.

The most famous is the Venus of Willendorf (Austria 22,000 BC). This interest in the female figure, especially pregnant, dates back to the Paleolithic: it is considered to be the cult of the Great Mother, the archetypal female who, over time is further developed, also at a figurative level. In the Neolithic, the attention to females increases, now often represented with her son, in a symbolic-religious leading role.

In Italy, archaeological sites in Valcamonica provide evidence of this: scenes on rocks in which we see very close male-female pairs, linked by symbolic elements. This vision of the family imposed on the female is also found in prehistoric Sardinia, with the evocative menhir statues erected in the third millennium BC: initially just large boulders erected in sequence according to precise patterns, these gradually become stick figures, mostly female, and increasingly anthropomorphic.

The male comes to the fore only later in history, in the Copper Age, when masculine gods appeared along with the patriarchal family model that would become consolidated and dominate later cultures.