Fine art in Russia dates back to the Stone Age. The earliest known work of Russian/Ukrainian art is the Venus of Kostenky (c.23,000-22,000 BCE), a mammoth bone carving of a female figure, discovered in Kostenky (Kostienki), dating from the Gravettian culture. A similar piece of prehistoric sculpture, carved out of limestone rock was discovered at the same site. Other items of Russian prehistoric art from the Gravettian era include the Venus of Gagarino (c.20,000 BCE), the Avdeevo Venuses (c.20,000 BCE), and an ivory carving known as the Mal’ta Venuses (20,000 BCE) from near Lake Baikal in Siberia. Magdalenian era art in Russia is exemplified by the Kapova Cave Paintings in the Shulgan-Tash Preserve, Bashkortostan, in the southern Urals and also by Amur River Basin Pottery (14,300 BCE).
The Venus of Kostenky (Kostienki) is among the oldest known examples of prehistoric sculpture in Russia. It is one of a series of European venus figurines that proliferated during the period of Gravettian art (c.25,000-20,000 BCE). In fact, the term “Venus of Kostensky” is a misnomer, since – like the “Venus of Gagarino”, the “Avdeevo Venuses”, the “Mal’ta Venuses” and the “Zaraysk Venuses” – it refers to a group of venuses, in this case found at Kostenky, in the Don Region. The most famous Kostenky venus is the ivory carving known as “number 3 from Kostienki 1” (see figure 1), which has been indirectly dated to about 22,000 BCE. It is part of the Paleolithic art collection of the Hermitage Museum, in Saint-Petersburg. Though less famous, a second mammoth ivory figurine from the same site (see figure 3), is considered to be more representative of the Kostenky-Avdeevo-Gagarino style.