Venus of Willendorf

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Venus of Willendorf
Venus von Willendorf 01.jpg

Venus of Willendorf, also known as the Woman of Willendorf, is an 11.1 cm (4.4 inches) high statuette of a female figure. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf. Willendorf is a village in Lower Austria near the city of Krems. The statuette is made of a kind of limestone that can not be found in the area. It is colored with red ochre.

A study made in 1990 suggests that the figure was made between 24.000 and 22.000 BCE. Very little is known about its origin, how it was made, or what it meant to the people who made it.

The Venus is not a realistic portrait but rather an idealization of the female figure. Her vulva, breasts, and swollen belly are very pronounced. This suggests a strong connection to fertility. Her tiny arms are folded over her breasts, and she has no visible face. Her head is covered with what might be coils of braids, eyes, or a kind of headdress. The lack of a face has prompted some archaeologists and philosophers to view the Venus as a "universal mother."

To add to this, many scientists believe that the coils of the venus’ hair were meant to represent the cycles of a woman’s period or ovulation.

The nickname, urging a comparison of this rather obese figurine to the classical image of "Venus", causes resistance in some modern analysis. "The ironic identification of these figurines as 'Venus' pleasantly satisfied certain assumptions at the time about the primitive, about women, and about taste," Christopher Witcombe has noticed [1]. At the same time there is professional reluctance to identify her as an Earth Mother goddess of paleolithic Old Europe.[source?] Some suggest that her corpulence would represent high status in a hunter-gatherer society, and that beside her obvious fertility she could be an emblem of security and success.[source?]

The statue's feet do not allow it to stand on its own. Due to this it has been speculated that it was meant to be held, rather than simply looked at.

Catherine McCoid and LeRoy McDermott think that the figurines were done as self-portraits by the women themselves. Most scientists agree that the head, seen from a profile view, while having no distinct facial features, appears to be looking down. The common physical characteristics of all of the Venus figures are: a thin upper torso, largely exaggerated breasts, large buttocks and thighs, a large stomach (possibly due to pregnancy), and oddly bent, short legs, that end with disproportionately small feet. Yet when looked upon as if you were a woman looking down at your body, the physical features, in perspective, seem correct. There are striking similarities between the Venus of Willendorf and a pregnant woman when perceived from above.

Venus of Willendorf is part of the collection of the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna[2].

Since this figure's discovery and naming, several similar statuettes and other forms of art have been discovered. They are collectively referred to as Venus figurines.

Other websites[change | change source]

  • Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, "Women in Prehistory:Venus of Willendorf".
  • The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory by J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer and Jake Page, ISBN 978-0-06-117091-1, gives a new 'view' of headdress as possible model for weaving a basket; Laura Miller review at [3] Archived 2008-06-12 at the Wayback Machine