I’ve decided to read my art history book from cover to cover. I’m just a weird nerd like that. I’ve decided to start us off with the Venus of Willendorf. She was created during the Paleolithic period. (She’s believed to have been created between 28,000 to 25,000 BCE.) She was found in Willendorf (hence the name), Austria.
Despite her goddess-invoking name, historians do not believe she was a deity of any sort. She is likely an exaggerated form of a woman’s body. It’s not even certain that she was an actual fertility symbol, though much of the art created during this period featured animals (reflective of the hunting and gathering type lifestyle of Paleolithic times) and women.
… Yes, It seems men have always been preoccupied with eating meat and looking at ladies.
Much of Ms. Willendorf’s shape may have been a result of the shape of the limestone when the artist received it, but let’s move on to what the artist obviously did on purpose.
Some historians believe she was a fertility figure because of her exaggerated tummy and very ample bosom. Also, the Paleolithic preoccupation with women’s form, in general, seems to indicate they were quite taken with a woman’s ability to bear life and therefore ensure survival of their species.
The artist took great care to carve detail into her pubic area, especially. Now, I’m going to get a little more graphic here than they do in my art history book, but if you look at the photo above, you can see that the artist made sure that even the labia was included in detail. They didn’t simply carve in a triangle below the belly to indicate that this is a lady who has a fertile, overflowing belly — they’ve highlighted her important child bearing parts. Her face was not of importance, the only care the artist took to her head was giving her either a woven hat or curly hair. I don’t think this is an example of objectification, though. The tools of that time, the skills of the artist, and the purpose of this piece probably had more to do with her lack of facial features than objectification.
Now, here’s my personal opinion. The Venus of Willendorf is adorable. She’s just over 4″ high, but she’s got this big presence. She’s this cuddly woman, someone who would take care of you and probably smother you in hugs.
I’m projecting some strange things onto this little sculpture, I guess. But look, she’s obviously got busty girl problems, so I can identify with her. Her breasts are so large, she’s decided to use them as an armrest. I’m sure plenty of Paleolithic suitors used them as pillows. Hell, she might even be the reason men created “motor boating.” (Good god, if this is true, I want it to be known that I am probably the first person to publish such a thought. I don’t think this will award me any points in the art history field, in fact, I should probably just delete that whole line, but I won’t… in the spirit of full disclosure.)
I believe she was symbolic of fertility, or at least as they understood it — well nourished, obviously suited for child bearing, and her breasts look like they could supply milk for an army of starving children.
Adorable little Ms. Willendorf… one example of the idealization of women. From a woman’s viewpoint, the changing idealizations are quite interesting. The very slender body is a relatively modern ideal. Throughout history, artists have celebrated a wide range of body shapes. Perhaps society would benefit by going “back to basics” and celebrating every woman’s form.