Believed to have been made in 30,000 BCE, the Venus of Willendorf is a tiny sculpture with a massive history.
Found on August 7th, 1908, the sculpture gives historians and archeologists an inside look into some of the traditions and beliefs of early man.
A Limestone Sculpture
Venus of Willendorf stands at 11.1 centimeters tall, or just about 4.4 inches. The figurine was discovered during excavations conducted by archaeologists Hugo Obermaier, Josef Szombathy, and Josef Bayer.
The figure doesn’t have a visible face, but her head is covered with a kind of headdress or rows of plaited hair.
It’s believed that the figure was carved during the European Upper Paleolithic, often referred to as the “Old Stone Age”. Stratigraphy of the site in which the figure was discovered suggests that it was made between 28,000 BCE and 25,000 BCE, making the figure nearly 30,000 years older than any person alive today!
You can see the figurine for yourself at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.
The Purpose Of The Figurine
This isn’t the first statuette to depict a nude woman. In fact, similar figures discovered in the 1800s and 1900s were referred to as “Venus figurines”.
Of course, figurines like this one predate the mythology of Venus by thousands of years. Because of this, you may find that scholars, archeologists, and art historians refer to the figure as the “Woman of” or “Woman from Willendorf”.
There isn’t much more known about the figure’s origins, though, both in how it was created and what kind of significance it may have held at the time of its creation.
One hypothesis behind the creation of the piece comes from Catherine McCoid and LeRoy McDermott. The two believe that these figurines may have been self-portraits. This follows the idea that some of the proportions may have come from women looking down at themselves, as this would have been the only way to view their bodies at the time.
However, the theory has been criticized by those who say that pools of water could have been used as “mirrors”.
Upper Paleolithic Art
Venus of Willendorf isn’t the only example of Upper Paleolithic art that you can see today.
This form of art is the oldest known to man and is present in Europe and Indonesia. Both figurative and non-figurative cave paintings date back as far as 40,000 years.
The study of this artwork has been used to theorize upon the behavioral characteristics of those humans living at the time.
European Upper Paleolithic rock, such as Venus of Willendorf, includes such things as cave paintings, jewelry, drawings, carvings, engravings, and sculptures. These were typically made out of such things as:
A Key To The Past
As we continue to learn more about the Venus of Willendorf, we’ll continue learning more about humanity’s past – and the ways in which art played a part in everyday life.