Venus of Willendorf by Unknown

The Venus of Willendorf is an 11.1-centimetre-high (4.4 in) Venus figurine estimated to have been made between about 28,000 and 25,000 BCE. It was found in 1908 by a workman named Johann Veran or Josef Veram during excavations conducted by archaeologists Josef Szombathy, Hugo Obermaier and Josef Bayer at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the town of Krems. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. The figurine is now in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

The figure is believed to have been carved during the European Upper Paleolithic, or "Old Stone Age", a period of prehistory starting around 30,000 BCE. A wide variety of dates have been proposed. Following a revised analysis of the stratigraphy of the site where the statuette was discovered, carried out in 1990, the figure was estimated to have been carved between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE. More recent estimates push the date back slightly to between about 28,000 and 25,000 BCE.

Similar sculptures, first discovered in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are traditionally referred to in archaeology as "Venus figurines", due to the widely-held belief that depictions of nude women with exaggerated sexual features represented an early fertility fetish, perhaps a mother goddess. The reference to Venus is metaphorical, since the figurines predate the mythological figure of Venus by many thousands of years. Some scholars reject this terminology, instead referring to the statuette as the "Woman of" or "Woman from Willendorf". Christopher Witcombe criticizes the term: "the ironic identification of these figurines as 'Venus' pleasantly satisfied certain assumptions at the time about the primitive, about women, and about taste".

Very little is known about the Venus' origin, method of creation, or cultural significance; however, it is one of numerous "Venus figurines" surviving from Paleolithic Europe. The purpose of the carving is the subject of much speculation. Like other similar sculptures, it probably never had feet, and would not have stood on its own, although it might have been pegged into soft ground. Parts of the body associated with fertility and childbearing have been emphasized, leading researchers to believe that the Venus of Willendorf may have been used as a fertility fetish. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or perhaps a type of headdress.

Catherine McCoid and LeRoy McDermott hypothesise that the figurines may have been created as self-portraits by women. They speculate that the complete lack of facial features could be accounted for by the fact that sculptors did not own mirrors. [See http://www.kbcc.cuny.edu/academicdepartments/art/Documents/durantaspaleolithicvenus.pdf]. This reasoning has been criticized by Michael S. Bisson, who notes that water pools and puddles would have been readily-available natural mirrors for Paleolithic humans.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf)
Click to select the cover image for this artwork.