Venus of Willendorf

One thing I love about this class is that through lecture I hear tidbits of facts and information from other classes I have taken before. They are usually not talked about much in this class, which gives me a great opportunity to research more information on them for blog topics. In this section of the class the one thing that stuck out to me that I’ve heard of before is the Venus of Willendorf. I find this statue very interesting because of the way the woman is built is seen as a sign of fertility. It is also called the Woman of Willendorf, and is only 11cm tall. I find the fact that something so small as this to be of great archaeological importance fascinating. It is estimated that it was made between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE, but wasn’t found until 1908 by a man named Johann Veran. He found it in during an excavation at a Paleolithic site near Willendorf, a city in lower Austria. The Venus of Willendorf is carved out of oolithic limestone and is tinted with red ochre. This limestone is not a local stone to the area, leaving room for interpretation as to where the stone came from and how it go to they city of Willendorf. There were many other Venus figures found later to match in a set together.

This statue was one of the earliest made to look like humankind and was most likely made my hunters and gathers. These hunter and gatherers lived in an environment that was much colder than present day, most likely the end of the ice age. The fatness of the woman makes her very desirable at the time because of the environment. At that time the most important thing was reproduction, so the size of the woman, her breast and her pelvic areas were of most importance to the artist when creating this statue. Her legs are very large and are touching all the way down to her knees, where they then reach her very detailed pelvic area. On the other hand her arms are very small and tiny and are placed on top of her breasts. Another interesting characteristic of all Paleolithic Venus figurine statues is that they all lack a face. Some argue that a face is the key point of featuring human identity, and that lacking a face symbolizes that this statue isn’t a representation of someone, but that it is a representation of an anonymous sexual object and that the physical body and its representation of fertility is the more important aspect. Aside from the Venus of Willendorf not having a face, it is mostly covered up by what seems to be her hair. It looks like her hair is braided in one continuous long braid and wrapped around her head, but in reality it is 7 concentric horizontal bands that encircle her head, with two more half bands below the bottom of her neck. Many Paleolithic figurines do not have specific attention drawn to hair, meaning that this artist was intending it to be of some significance. In later cultures hair is considered to be a source of strength and as the seat of the soul. Hair also has a long history as a source of erotic attraction giving more evidence to this figurine being a form of fertility.

2 thoughts on “Venus of Willendorf

  1. I thought your post was very well written and really interesting. I have taken many art history classes and the Venus of Willendorf is one of the most influential sculptures to date. Since then, depicting women in art has evolved dramatically but remained a key theme over time. It is funny to think that such a small and simple artifact can have such a huge importance in history and be so highly revered when it looks as though a five year old could make it with play-doh. But I think it ultimately reflects the evolution of the human brain and the way it works as various cultures progress and develop. The people of the Paleolithic cultures value fertility in a woman above all, but hundreds of years later, let’s say English people of the Middle Ages nobility, value obedience and wealth in addition to fertility. As cultural values transform, the impact they have an artistic themes and elements shifts as well.
    By examining the lineage of the “Venus” figures, you can see this notion take shape, from Venus of Willendorf to Venus de Milo to Venus of Urbino.

    What is also interesting as you refer back to often, is the concept of symbolism. Almost every archaeological discovery has an attached symbolic meaning of some sort. Who is to say what hair symbolizes? Can it not just be a simple depiction?Personally, I think that using symbolism is an important tool for archaeologists to help piece together bits of information to form a whole picture and further develop their understanding of a culture that we have little connection to.

  2. When the Venus of Willendorf came up on the slideshow in class I was hoping for an explanation for her bizarre figure, and I’m happy I go the chance to read your post. I think it is very interesting how dramatic they make certain parts of her body look because they are related to fertility, which was obviously an attractive trait in those times. I also find it very interesting that the figurine does not have a face and has very small arms. I think that this not only shows what was important to the artist, but might show us that our definition of beauty nowadays is much different than the definition from that time. Today, a slim body and attractive face are considered beautiful but from the features on this staue it suggests that a shapely figure suggesting fertility is the most attractive trait. The statue not having a face goes to show that physical features were not very important to the people of that time.
    However, the fact that she does not have a face made it hard for me to even realize the statue was supposed to be of a woman because the shape was so distorted from the shape of most women today. As the comment before me says, it is interesting to see how the statues of women have evolved over the years. The evolution of the figurines not only show physical changes that may have occurred, but also shows how what was considered beautiful or important in a woman has been changing over the centuries.

Comments are closed.