2008-08-21

Venus of Willendorf resurrected 100 years

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by Neil Godfrey

25,000 year old Venus of Willendorf was discovered 100 years ago and contrary to so many texts and coffee table books whose text it is plied to illustrate, no-one really knows much about the what’s and why’s of it —

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— as discussed in a newsbyte on Australian Broadcasting Corporation site. Reference is to Vienna’s Natural History Museum current exhibit.

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27 thoughts on “Venus of Willendorf resurrected 100 years”

  1. And why isn’t it beautiful? this figure was worshiped for 10,000 years as the epitome of beauty and womanhood.

    What changed? Now only the 12-17 yr old pre pregnancy figure is beautiful? why?

    1. The best explanation I have seen for these prehistoric figures is that they were personifications of the hallucinogenic young amanita muscaria mushroom. See Dr Stephen Berlant’s The Origin and Significance of Anthropomorphic, Goddess Figurines with Particular Emphasis on The Venus of Willendorf.

      And the reason I am partial to this explanation is because I found most plausible the thesis of David Lewis-Williams that the prehistoric origins of religion and art are to be found in the experiences of the hallucinogenic and altered states of consciousness. See my post on his book, The Mind in the Cave.

      See also the Wikipedia article.

    2. It’s not beautiful because of what it represents. 25,000 years ago it represented survival, a woman with a figure like that ate well, had probably lived through childbirth and was plainly therefore fertile. Nowadays it represents greed, poor health and a lack of fitness, whereas the slimmer firmer figure represents youth, a longer future etc. Society necessarily changes, and therefore it’s values change.

      Would you want to live in a society with the same values as we had 25,000 years ago?

    3. The article plainly says

      “no-one really knows much about the what’s and why’s of it”

      And other internet documentation seems to support this claim, yet you quickly conclude

      “this figure was worshiped for 10,000 years as the epitome of beauty and womanhood.”

      Who said this figure was (1) worshiped, (2) the epitome of beauty, or (3) the epitome of womanhood? It is just as likely that it is none of the above.

    1. I noticed that too. 🙂 And I don’t believe her breasts are as milk-filled as the original, either. And I bet she doesn’t have legs that taper away into pointy bits instead of into feet. Me still likes the idea that she represents that hallucinogenic mushroom — an idea that I linked to in an earlier comment.

  2. Well, we don’t HAVE to find it sexy, do we? Please try not to giggle and point like adolescents.
    It seems pretty obvious to me that this partially-abstract figure of a fat woman was considered attractive to someone at some time.

    You can talk about hallucinogenic mushrooms if you like. If that idea is true, then the mushrooms are still personified as this overflowingly fat female figure.

    I’d bet that this sculptural example of excess was simply considered to represent Plenty, something we still, in our age of conspicuous overconsumption, admire. Even if we don’t admire the form, we certainly do admire the idea.

    And as an artist myself, I find plenty to admire here. Those hips, knees and legs are quite well observed. That’s where the attention is on this figure: the bust mattered a little less, and the head and face even less than that.

    Maybe this is simply a Paleolithic centerfold?

    I only wish we could find more artifacts of this vast span of unknown time, and get further into the minds of people living then.

    1. I agree with much of your statement but it would be unwise to assume that the sculptor and his society produced such figures for the reason that we might do today, i.e. to portray beauty or any other quality. It is impossible to get into the mindset of people who lived twenty thousand years ago.

    2. Dear Robin, I’ve only just started with computers and so I’m 2 years behind. The venus is a normal woman. Whether they wanted her as a Holy Mary Picture or a Playboy center fold, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the artist ‘HAD A MODEL!’. This was a woman who ate grains or drank beer. We say now that she doesn’t fit our ideal of sexual attraction but :- stand on any street corner; knock on any door and you will find a Venus von Willendorf. And they are all married and have children. Barbies are what children play with not whom one marries.

  3. hola soy mayra tengo 14 años vivo en argentina pasaba en google buscando una imagen de venus para la escuela y veo esto les quiero decir gracias su trabajo servira para todos .

    Vridar translation via http://translation2.paralink.com/:
    hello I am mayra I am 14 years old live in Argentinian I was happening in google looking for venus’s image for the school and I see this want to say to them that thank you his work will serve for all.

  4. Has anyone considered where these little figures were found and their condition when found. Almost all these little statues were found broken or broken and burnt, or broken from being burnt. thse little statues were commoly found in fire pits with other little statues of animals that could kill humans. and or caused fear.

    Now reguarding the photo. the photo is a good working piece that needs further consideration and a little more refinement.I would like to see better posture and a more accurate position and or replication or the arms and over all posiiton of the model. Background should be less studio and more organic, unless the artist intended for the rebirth to look like its under glass in a museum. over all I would rathe this piece 4 out of 10 with realy great potential for a series to be done of the many forms of this statue

  5. Pingback: The Goddess of Willendorf » Blog Archive » Venus If You Will(endorf)
  6. Pingback: The Goddess of Willendorf
  7. Interesting that both Clive Bromhall and Desmond Morris propose that human female breasts are sexual advertisements. The bigger, the better they rev the male desire motor which is essentially concerned with mate selection.
    Of course they are beautiful … they are designed (selected) to be and they advertise not just ‘plenty’, but ‘plenty of milk’ for your babies guys … she will be able to feed your offspring superbly and to satify beautifully your own craving to return to your own mother’s breast.

    Woman is the only female primate whose breasts swell to appear to be lactating, from the onset of puberty. She is also the only primate female who has large aureoli to make her nipples appear large and engorged.

    I see in my local newspaper that the size of women’s breasts in my city have increased dramatically over the last twenty or so years (Berlei say their sales of D to J cup sizes have increased 53% over the last three years!). Over the same period of time the local males appear to be settling down at a much later age. Maybe the girls are responding by increasing the size of their advertising.

    For those who feel that the Willendorf Venus is a one off, almost from the moment mankind began to create three dimensional art he produced female images such as these. I can find no evidence from history that thin women were ever thought to be attractive. None of the Old Masters depicted skinny lizzies, and the pinups of the victorian era were certainly of ‘Junoesque’ proportions.

    Viva les fatties!

  8. Boy, that was one disturbing sculpture, and I think the lack of face is what is creeping me out the most.

    On what basis did they figure that people worshiped or even liked that statue? If a scientist a thousand years from now uncovered a picture of Whoopee Goldberg, would they assume based on the fact that a picture was taken of her that she must have been considered the symbol of feminine beauty in her time? Similarly, do these scientists consider that that “Venus” statue long ago represented the ideal of beauty simply because it exists?

    Anyways, the idea that such an incredibly obese, faceless woman would be seen as the pinnacle of beauty at any time is weirding me out so much that I shall now create a link to use as portal to escape this page: http://www.stormfront.org

    Bye guys & gals. 😀

  9. In my opinion, this figurine IS the representation of womanhood and fertility in that age. I think she is the representation of the ‘mother goddess’, thus the representation of child-birth, purely because of the shape of her body. The legs and hips indicate a woman who is completely capable of child birth. However, I do not think all Paleolithic women looked like this, it may be an exaggerated version of her, since the figurines were used extensively during rituals, which, as the research by Dr. Berlant states was brought about with the help of hallucinogenic mushrooms. This, in my opinion, is the reason for the exaggerated form. I also agree with comments that say that the Venus of Willendorf is the depiction of ‘Plenty’- both in terms of wealth (and I don’t mean financial) and breast milk.

    I completely DISAGREE with Natalie. I don’t think it is difficult as it is to grasp that the Venus of Willendorf was at one point the depiction of womanhood and femininity. We need to step out of our own time zones, leave women of toothpick proportions aside, and think from the point of view of Prehistoric Man. It is only since the 1920s, I believe, that the rise of skinny has begun. If you look at the study of nudes by the Renaissance, Dutch and even Impressionist masters, you see the true depiction of the female form. I think that Renoir’s nude studies, are quite a bit of a throwback to the Venus of Willendorf.

    I hope I made sense, haha!

  10. The fact that the feet are non-existent and the legs taper off into points, indicates that the statue was stuck into soft dirt or clay, to keep her standing upright. {Many Venus figures have this quality.}
    As in some abstract “modern” art, her facial features are not shown and you can “imagine” any sort of face you like on her — maybe that’s what makes her “universal”!
    Another indication of “plenty” and even lots of leisure time, is on her head; either a very elaborate hairdo, or an intricately-woven cap. More important than her face in this instance. It is not the least bit “creepy” to me! Rather, there is an all-over artistic unifying effect, this is not a randomly put-together thing, but, amazingly, shows in every sense a true Artist with a particular vision, at work.

  11. The Venus von Willendorf is not a fanatsy figure. She is anatomically correct and the artist must have worked from a model. 26ooo years ago the world was in an ice age. Homo sapiens were hunters. You don’t get fat eating meat! You get fat eating hamburgers! Meat and grain (bread — or beer), but cultivation only started, supposedly, 20000 years later. How were the people who built Göbekli Tepe fed: and that was only 12000 years ago but still in the Ice Age. The meanings for these things I don’t think we will ever really discover but how it was done is where we should be looking. …..I think.

  12. I find it most amusing that this little figurine and the accompanying picture can rouse such a strong emotional response from people. Some of them act as if they are insultet that their concept of an ideal woman isn’t the universal, Gof given, never will change (all who are not fitting are wrong) ideal. It undermines their believes that they are right (and, dare I say? could be wrong!) about what is beautiful. Of course they protest loudly!
    All of those should take a good long look at Rembrandt, Raffael and Botticelli. Their ideal females aren’t stick thin, even if they celebrate more petite breasts (and whide hips). And they are still celebrated as beautiful, no matter that their legs would be sneered at at every beach. Let’s be reasonable and agree that there’s no right or wrong in what is considered beautiful, just that as times change, the majority ideal may change as well. Hey, in a hundred years Miss Willendorf V2.0 might be a supermodel and on the cover of every fashion mag.
    Whatever the thoughts were that went through the artists head when he or she created this figurine, we will never know for sure unless someone invents a time machine, finds the correct time and actually communicates with people then.

  13. It strikes me that this female body is one of many types, and she was chosen to sculpt obesity. Next week the boys and girls in this class will do a child and the week after they will practice on an old man. But this coming Monday the assignment will be due of the matronly body.

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