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Venus of Willendorf

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This paper will discuss relative points and insights relating to sculpture of the Paleolithic era, specifically the Venus of Willendorf, through the essays of Christopher Witcombe.

Venus is a term that has long been associated with artwork, most specifically the classical forms of beautiful women. The term Venus has also come to represent female sculptures of the Paleolithic era. The most notable of these female sculptures is the Venus of Willendorf, 24,000-22,000 BCE. The age of the figurine has been changed several times. Originally when found the date was estimated to be 15,000 to 10,000 BCE. During the 1970's the time period was adjusted to 25,000 to 20,000 BCE; the date was again recalculated in the 1980's to 30,000 to 25,000 BCE; the most recent estimate of age was in the 1990's and was placed at 24,000 to 22,000 BCE after scientific research was performed on the rock stratification. This statuette was discovered by Josef Szombathy in 1908 near the town of Willendorf, Austria, in an Aurignacian loess deposit, which loosely defined is a yellow brown loamy geological deposit dating to the Paleolithic period. The name Venus was first associated with the figurine as a joke. The small, crudely carved statuette of an obese woman contrasts heavily from the graceful classical forms of sculpture such as Aphrodite of Cnidos, Praxiteles, 350 BCE. Although it would be difficult to associate the word beautiful with this statuette, there can be no doubt that it reflects the female form. The statuette has also been known as "la poire" or "the pear" due to its size and shape and more recently was donned the Woman from Willendorf. The removal of the title Venus served to take away the figurine's status of goddess and lower it to the human level, therefore allowing more consideration of the figurine's purpose (Witcombe, sec. 3).

The sculpture is small, approximately 4 3/8 inches, and is carved of oolitic stone, a porous limestone. Since this particular stone is not found in the area, it is believed that the sculpture was brought from another region. The size and shape of the figurine fit comfortably in the hand which suggests the figurine was meant to be carried. (Witcombe, sec. 3) The Venus of Willendorf has achieved renown because the work is believed to be the earliest known sculpture of a human being. The statuette clearly depicts an overweight female with braided hair or a woven hat, large breasts, ample abdomen, prominent pubic area, unproportionately thin arms and no feet. The absence of feet is significant for two reasons. The first reason is that if the statuette is a fertiliy symbol, only body parts needed to bear and rear children would be accentuated; the second reason is the presumption that if the image had no feet it would not be able to move away from its owner (Witcombe, sec. 3). The head shows no face but uncharacteristic care was worked into the hair or headpiece. Witcombe explains that hair, more specifically, the scent associated with hair was very important in attracting a mate. The detail in the sculptural braiding of the hair area may have been considered just as erotic as the breast and pubic areas.

Considering the time period the statuette was created, it is difficult to imagine that the Venus of Willendorf represents the typical female. Food was not readily available to allow the human population to grow so rotund, therefore, Witcombe suggests the statuette represents either a woman of significance or possibly a fertility idol . Both assumptions are plausible given that a person of power would most certainly have access to more food and possibly less work resulting in a robust figure. However, modern science has also shown that diet is very important when trying to conceive. An overweight female might have conceived more easily



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