The gesture of Self-Reflecting Adorant

Analyzing the figurative and archaeological documents of prehistoric Europe, it sometimes happens to come across images that express new aspects of body language but which, also due to the considerable difficulties of typological framing, have long been on the edge of research.

quinta posizione
The Self-Reflecting Adorant corresponds to the third position of the modern ballet, in which the arms are rounded and raised upwards, slightly ahead of the body line.

This almost unique gesture in the Camunian repertoire represented on the rock nr. 2 of Foppe di Nadro (Valcamonica, late 4th-early 3rd millennium BC), gives us some interesting elements of judgment on the gesture of adorant: 1- based on modern interpretations (supported by a wide intersubjective agreement), the cupmark engraved at inside of the thighs of the anthropomorph indicates its female sex; 2- the position of the arms folded inside differentiates the gesture of this anthropomorph from the classic prototype of the adorant; 3- there is a clear relationship of proximity between the gesture of the anthropomorph and the adjacent reticular structure, to which Anati (Evolution and Style, 1976) has attributed a vaguely anthropomorphic form. To understand the meaning of this image we must first reflect on the obvious difference in meaning between the type of the traditional adorant, with open arms and facing upwards (with some variations), and the new model, which I will call the Self-reflecting adorant , obtained from the same postural base but with an important variation: the two arms are folded towards the inside and the palms of the hands are turned downwards.

orante (2)
Foppe di Nadro, Rock nr. 2-D ( Valcamonica, end IV mill.- early III mill a.C.)

I would like to remind you that every single archaic figurative document is not the result of an individual creative act, but the faithful copy of an effective behavioral model, the schematic reproduction of an original knowledge that the community considered so relevant as to remove it from any kind of individual reworking. If we consider the traditional adorant as the cosmic mediator that deals with upward communication, from the first visual impact we realize that the gesture of the Self-Reflecting Adorant, which is still described in the manuals as one of the five basic positions of the modern ballet, conveys a strong sense of closure towards the high and a retreat into oneself.

The Self-Reflecting Adorant appears in some figurative repertoires in European and North African Prehistory starting from the Neolithic (5th-4th millennium BC), a period during which some communities, after a millennial journey of technological and social innovation, show that they have acquired a high artistic competence, unknown to previous ages. At this time, in European iconography and movable art, more permanently than in the past, anthropomorphic figurines representing divine entities or perhaps only female subjects in a ritual attitude of prayer / supplication are attributed. The liturgy is no longer limited to connecting with the upper or lower world through the traditional forms of ritual (music, song, prayer, dance). The renewed figurative technique re-elaborates and transforms into an image the archaic idea of “Transcendent”, meaning by this term a reality that, beyond the perceptive limits of man, is grasped in a holistic sense, that is as an integral part of the world and in constant interaction with it. The reticular structure engraved near the female anthropomorph of Foppe di Nadro is an example of this new artistic-religious sensibility that is expressed with a very schematic figurative language. After having made its appearance in the Balkan area around the 6th millennium BC, this “style” will spread by contact for almost 2 millennia among the European Neolithic communities, up to the threshold of the first metal age. In iconography and sacred plastic, the idea of Transcendent is incorporated into the form of idols in which a humanized universe is represented, whose cosmic registers – the celestial dimension (the circle), the terrestrial one (the square) and the lower one ( to which no geometry seems to correspond) – they are put in communication with each other by an imaginary line (axis mundi) through which energy transitions occur. As Arturo Schwarz suggests (“The vertical dimension of the immortal androgyne”, Valcamonica Symposium III, 1979) the traditional upward opening of the arms of the adorant expresses allegorically the conciliation between the male principle (the sky) and the feminine one (the earth) and mediate their contradictions. In the Self-Reflecting Adorant, on the contrary, the folding of the arms inward is a sign of the profound ideological change underway in the late Neolithic Camunian liturgy, which will be followed by substantial changes also in the conception of space, such as the transfer of part of sacral communication from the vertical to the frontal dimension. In this perspective the gesture of the Self-Reflecting Adorant constitutes the starting point of a path not entirely traveled, a provisional anticipation of what will happen to the European liturgical system in the not distant transition to the subsequent megalithic phase (5th-4th millennium BC). In this phase, on the first engraved stelae of Valcamonica, the gestural outline of the Universal Man makes its appearance, more responsive than the previous to the requirement of frontality more suited to the sacred spaces that host the new “idols”. In this way the object of worship, the Divine, while preserving in its skies its original site to which the traditional gesture of the adorant will continue to be directed, is reproduced as a two-dimensional and placed image based on the new and very strict rules of representation at the center of the ritual space. In addition to Valcamonica, the Self-Reflecting Adorant was found in some ceramic documents of pre-dynastic Egypt, in particular the culture of Naqada I and II (3800-3200 BC), and in the Magura cave, (Chalcolithic culture of Bodrogkeresztur, Bulgaria, III millennium BC). From the funerary contexts of the Naqada site comes a certain number of vases decorated with female figurines portrayed on the deck of a boat, one of the means used by the Egyptian religion to let the deceased pass into the world of the dead. At the center of many scenes is the female worshiper with her arms folded over her head, often surrounded by one or two smaller male figures

mosè e naqada
On the right: the Self-Reflecting Adorant with his arms supported by two male figurines (Naqada Culture); in the center: portal of the Romanesque church of San Cassiano in Controne (Lucca, 12th century). Aronne and Cur hold up the arms of Moses portrayed in the pose of the adorant, who receives the energy from the sky and transmits it to the Jewish army. Left: decoration of the whole vase with female figurines and the funeral boat (pre-dynastic Egypt, end of IV mill. BC).
According to Erich Neumann (La Grande Madre, 1978) some of these little men have the function of supporting the woman in the armpits to increase the effect of posture and prolong it. The same function is described in a biblical passage in which Aaron and Cur support the arms of an exhausted Moses after having long performed the adorant’s gesture to infuse energy into the Jewish army in the crucial battle against the Amalekites (Exodus 17: 8-13 ). The female figurine object of representation cannot therefore be the Great Mother, as claimed by the Gjmbutas (The language of the goddess, 1997) but an initiate that repeats the gesture made by the goddess to lead the dead to eternal life and periodically restore fertility to the earth . In fact, only a human being needs the support of other men, certainly not a divinity, who has unlimited energy at all times.
dea madre
Female statuette (pre-dynastic Egypt, late 4th millennium BC, Brooklyn Museum, from Ordynat, 2013). The lower part of the body is not rendered in naturalistic terms: the face is a bird’s beak, while the arms are curved above the head of the figurine and pushed backwards.

The idea of a cult of the Mother Goddess spread between the Mediterranean and the Middle East, was generally rejected, also because the archaeological and anthropological evidence to prove it are scarce and not specific, while the female figures object of the hypothesis are too distant in the space and time. In addition to the position of the arms, the statuette shows two other elements of particular interest: 1 – the face of the figurine is entirely occupied by the beak of a bird; 2- the lower part of both the figures painted on the Nagada vases, and the statuettes, does not show the anatomical details of the legs and feet, but a single undifferentiated body that, starting from the broad female hips, ends with a more thinned shape. These elements allow us to go deeper into the analysis and to formulate two further hypotheses: a- both the painted figurine and the statuette do not express a dance pose, as suggested by Garfinkel (Dancing at the dawn of agriculture, 2001), as in most cases a dance cannot be performed without the aid of the lower limbs; b- although the presence of the bird’s beak, which is repeated in other forms of predinastic art (palettes, combs, amulets and flints), suggests a sort of theriomorphism, the position of the arms cannot be traced back to the extended wings of flight of bird, but only to the sense of self-reflection.

1magura
Left: The Lady of the Magura Cave (Bulgaria) in the position of the Self-Reflecting Adorant. At his side a smaller schematic anthropomorphic was depicted, to which the gesture is addressed. Right. The figure of the adorant acts as a cosmic mediator between the hunter and his prey.

Even the paintings of the Magura Cave (Bronze Age, Bulgaria) made with bat guano show the Self-Reflecting Adorant with the bitriangular body, in a particular relationship with a schematic and ithyphallic anthropomorph, of smaller dimensions, represented as a sort of totem or a pole planted in the ground (Anati: 1971). The arms of the “dancer” folded over her head in an elegant attitude of prayer / adoration, clearly recall the figurines of pre-dynastic Egypt. In addition to the identity of hunter / gatherer / farmer, the Chalcolithic man may also for the first time be attributed that of warrior and predator, while the woman has by now lost the pre-eminence of the previous ages, even if in the figurative universe painted on cave walls, its function as a mediator between human and cosmic reality is still partially recognized. The most obvious example is provided by the hunting scenes, in which the Self-Reflectig Adorant is represented between the hunter and the animal, confirming that his mediation is decisive for the success of the hunt.

Autore: Gaudenzio Ragazzi

(English). My name is Gaudenzio Ragazzi, a long time ago I graduated in Philosophy with a master in History of Theater. To realize my thesis on the "origins of dance", a theme that still today boasts only two or three specialized researchers in the world, I became a scholar of Prehistoric Iconography. In the last thirty years I have not been able to escape the responsibilities of life. So, after the death of my father, I led the family artisan company that produces tailored shirts. A few years ago I decided that it was time to resume my studies and complete the research I had started as a young man (that nobody else had yet completed). Good luck Gaudenzio! Mi chiamo Gaudenzio Ragazzi, molto tempo fa ho conseguito la laurea in Filosofia con specializzazione in Storia del Teatro. Sono diventato uno studioso di Iconografia Preistorica per realizzare la mia tesi di laurea sulle "origini della danza", argomento che ancora oggi vanta nel mondo solo due o tre studiosi di una certa levatura. Negli ultimi trent'anni non ho potuto sottrarmi alle responsabilità della vita. Così, dopo la morte di mio padre, ho guidato l'azienda artigiana di famiglia che produce camicie su misura. Alcuni anni fa ho deciso che era arrivato il momento di riprendere i miei studi e di fare da vecchio quello che non ho potuto fare da giovane (e che nessun altro nel frattempo aveva completato). Buon lavoro Gaudenzio !

2 pensieri riguardo “The gesture of Self-Reflecting Adorant”

  1. È tutto ben spiegato e coerente. Mi rimangono le mie solite perplessità: non riesco ad immaginare un uomo primitivo con una capacità di astrazione tale da concettualizzare la “trascendenza” e demandare poi a questa il “senso”, l'”ordine”, l'”origine”, il “fine” del nostro vivere. Se solo con Euclide riusciamo a elaborare il concetto astratto di triangolo, di retta ecc. riunendo in un unico fascio e facendo derivare da quello tutte le realizzazioni e manifestazioni di quell’idea; se solo con Pitagora riusciamo a “misurare” cioè a comprendere le relazioni e le proporzioni fa la realtà e un’astratta unità di misura (per empirica che sia), ancora più difficilmente riesco a immaginarmi un’Entità trascendente, posta nei cieli, senso, ordine, origine e fine della nostra esistenza, qualche millennio prima. Ma il mio è un punto di vista non dimostrabile, un’opinione, un’intuizione vaga e prescientifica. Le tue considerazioni hanno la concretezza che non attribuisci ai tuoi “pitoti”.

  2. Aggiungerei anche questo: ogni società ha i suoi modelli di comportamento. Su questi è stata elaborata una morale avendo come pietra di paragone l’astrazione di un comportamento perfetto, auspicabile, secondo le leggi, dignitoso, decente (dal lat. “decet” – tutto un programma!). Può essere vero che i Camuni avessero raggiunto un simile livello di civiltà (le incisioni testimoniano di una “comunicazione” che legava i singoli membri a un ideale condiviso). Mi pare però che siamo di fronte a un livello di complessità e di elaborazione appunto “primitivo”. Ricostruire questo livello è un’impresa, ma insistendo sono certo che scoprirai qualcosa di assolutamente inedito e sorprendente. In contraddizione con quanto ho appena detto, sto pensando alla ritualità intrinseca dei riti sciamanici: per il fatto stesso di essere tradizionali e immutabili confermano il modello e di conseguenza da lì traggono la loro efficacia. Esattamente come la rappresentazione icastica e immutabile dell’ “orante” (ma sarà la parola giusta?)

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