Venus of Willendorf Essay

This essay has a total of 1044 words and 5 pages.

Venus of Willendorf

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.


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