Why is the “Venus of Wilendorf,”so important?

"Venus" of Willendorf
c. 24,000-22,000 BCE
Oolitic limestone
4 3/8 inches (11.1 cm) high
(Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna)
Why is the “Venus of Willendorf,”so important.

In our world there are certain artifacts and works of art that are ideal examples of how (western culture) views a historical period or art movement.

Starting with the title of the so called “Venus of Willendorf,” is now considered misnamed because most historians do not believe it is a love goddess such as we think of the Roman goddess of love and romance Venus.  When it was found in 1908 by the archaeologist Josef Szombathy in the country of Austria near a place called Willendorf, archeologists believed that “cave men” (also a term that isn’t used much) saw this figurine as a kind of ancient porno magazine.  

In the 1960s, after anthropology and archeology really got going as disciplines, academics felt that the figurine probably represented an image of a woman who was sturdy, well fed, and healthy.  A woman with a large amount of body fat would be nice to snuggle with during the ice age.    So historians see this small sculpture in different ways and from different points of views based on when they lived, what they believe, and the culture that the person who is looking at it from.  One other thing that you should know, they’ve found a lot of figurines that share very similar qualities and date from the same period.

You can decide what you want to believe it is after you get some facts about it.  I think that disregarding other interpretations and just describing it is a good way of figuring it out.  

It’s small, about 4 inches long.  It was made out of stone.  The feet are broken off.  It has a a dot or small circular impressions where the face should be.  The “hair” is a repeating slightly geometric pattern that looks almost like a series of ovals in rows.  The breasts, stomach, butt, and thighs are very large while the arms which are crossed across the chest are almost just etched shapes.  The vagina is very clearly defined.  The sculpture has some traces of reddish paint on it.

There are a range of interpretations of the large body parts, the hair and the lack of realism in the features of the face and the hair.  The body is very naturalistic and so are the genitals.  The contrast of real looking stuff to abstract or cartoonish stuff maybe an indication that the face was less important than the body or the reverse could be true.  Maybe the face was so important that there was a reason to make it just a hole.  Here’s the most reasonable explanation for what this sculpture is.

The sculpture is probably a representation of some kind of ideal woman.  The extra body weight and exaggerated sexual characteristics might have represented a “sexy” woman or a “motherly type” or both at the same time.  The stylized repeating pattern on the head is probably some sort of cap, but more likely it represents hair and could represent braids, of a type of mud encrusted hair style that some people use even today in parts of Africa.

Probably the reason why this “Woman from Willendorf” is the most popular is because it was one of the first ones found and was popularized because of it.

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