Visualizing Fertility and Birth in Judy Chicago’s “Ceramic Goddess #3”

Ceramic Goddess #3 (Study for Goddess Figurine on Fertile Goddess runner), glazed ceramic.  (Copyright 1977, Judy Chicago. All Rights Reserved).

Judy Chicago’s Ceramic Goddess #3, a medium sized figurine (10 x 8 1/2 x 3 in.) whose form resembles the famous Paleolithic fertility figure, the Woman of Willendorf, represents one of Chicago’s earliest works related to the theme of birth and fertility.  Originally created as a larger version of a goddess figure found in her well-known work, The Dinner Partythe artist’s Ceramic Goddess reminds the viewer that human history developed early on in respect and reverence for the female form. The work predates Chicago’s Birth Project, the artist’s monumental undertaking during the first half of the ’80s, devoted entirely to the theme of birth (discussed more extensively in previous Visualizing Birth posts – see references below).

Like the Woman of Willendorf, Chicago’s Ceramic Goddess #3 displays the voluptuous shapes of the female form, including round breasts, belly and thighs, and a large, full vulva.  For the purposes of visualizing birth, statuettes like this remind the pregnant woman not only that her body is made for birthing babies, but that she is connected to a long lineage of women who have given birth throughout the course of human history.  Such figures may have been worshipped in early communities, or they may have been used as part of birth as a rite of passage.  See the Brooklyn Museum for more information on Chicago’s fertility goddess.

Judy Chicago’s Birth Project represents five years of work (1980-1985) devoted to the creation of birth images. Chicago began the project when she noticed an absence of birth imagery in all of the history of art.  Working along with Chicago, over 130 needleworkers contributed to the monumental project, creating needlepoint tapestries such as Earth BirthHatching the Universal EggThe Crowningand Birth Trinity.

Judy Chicago is an American artist known for her large-scale feminist installation pieces, which enage the viewer and explore the roles and treatment of women in history, art and culture.  Her work is available widely across the internet, and more about her Birth Project may be seen here.