Sculptures Willendorf and Dolni Vestonice

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Why is the “Venus of Wilendorf,”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 8 inches long.  It was made out of stone.  The feet are broken off.  It has a couple of dots 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 three small holes.  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.

(1) : orderly method of arrangement (as in the presentation of ideas) : manner of coordinating elements (as of an artistic production or course of reasoning)

(2) : a particular kind or instance of such arrangement <the sonnet is a poetical form>

b : PATTERN, SCHEMA <arguments of the same logical form>

c : the structural element, plan, or design of a work of art --  visible and measurable unit defined by a contour : a bounded surface or volume

(3) The literal shape and mass of an object or figure.

(4) More general, the materials used to make a work of art, the ways in which these materials are used utilized in terms of the formal elements (medium, texture, rhythm, tempo, dynamic contrast, melody, line, light/contrast/value structure, color, texture, size and composition.)



formal analysis
Is the analysis of a work by discussing its form such as its size, medium, shape, lines, light, color, texture and composition.

bass relief and haute relief
(low relief and high relief)
"sculpture in the round"

Etymology: Medieval Latin iconographia, from Greek eikonographia sketch, description, from eikonographein to describe, from eikon- + graphein to write -- more at CARVE
Date: 1678
1 : pictorial material relating to or illustrating a subject
2 : the traditional or conventional images or symbols associated with a subject and especially a religious or legendary subject
3 : the imagery or symbolism of a work of art, an artist, or a body of art

Iconographic Analysis

An iconographic analysis is the analysis of the symbols and what they mean in the work, or what the work itself symbolizes.

Some scholars such as Marilyn Stokstad refers to this as content.  According to Stokstad book Art History:

"Content includes subject matter, which is quite simply is what is represented, even when that consists strictly of lines and formal elements-lines and color without recognizable subject matter, for example."

"The study of the "what" of subject matter is iconography.  Iconology has come to mean the study of the "why" of subject matter."



Etymology: Middle English, weaving together of words, from Latin contextus connection of words, coherence, from contexere to weave  together, from com- + texere to weave

1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning

 2 : the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : ENVIRONMENT, SETTING

contextual analysis
Is the analysis of a work by discussing its history, culture, environment, and or background.
Roughly close to conclusion in music.


contextualism A methodological approach in art history which focuses on the cultural back ground of an art object.  Unlike connoirsseurship, contexualism utilizes the literature, history, economics, and social developments (among others) of a period, as well as the object itself, to explain the meaning of an artwork. 

She was unearthed by worker Johann Veran, about 30m above the River Danube, during the Wachau railway construction in 1908, then identified by Austrian archaeologist Josef Szombathy. Wilendorf had already been known as a Palaeolithic site for over 20 years before systematic excavations by Josef Szombathy, Josef Bayer and Hugo Obermaier began.



Kachina Palhik’ mama 
(Water Drinking Girl)
c 1920 wood pt. Yarn front view
SW United States, Hopi Culture

Woman from Willendorf, (Venus of Willendorf ),
Austria. c. 22,000-21,000 BCE.
       limestone, painted with ochre. Size: 4 3/4 inches 
       Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna
Paleolithic Period


Title Venus of Willendorf

Region/Country Europe (Austria)

period/style name  Paleolithic

approximate dates c. 22,000-21,000 BCE.

 Courses on Udemy:
Historic Era Neolithic Technology Cultures

1125-1200 CE Ansazi
1300-Present  Navajo, Hopi, Zuni,
1300?- Present Kwakiutl, Tlingit, Haida


600,000-10,000 European Sites: Altamira, Lascaux, Tuc Audoubert, La Madeleine, Willendorf

Neolithic Cultures

4,000-1,500 BCE Europe
6,000-3,500 BCE Near East Catal Huyuk
800BCE-100 CE North America  Adena (Serpent Mound)

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