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Venus of Willendorf

Venus of Willendorf at the Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria – Photo: Nisudapi

It has been suggested that she is a fertility figure, a good-luck totem, a mother goddess symbol — just like the so-called Stone Age Venuses and the Virgin Mary — or an aphrodisiac made by men for the appreciation of men. Further, one researcher hypothesized that it was made by a woman and that “what has been seen as evidence of obesity or adiposity is actually the foreshortening effect of self-inspection.”

She is Venus of Willendorf — also called Woman of Willendorf or Nude Woman —, Upper Paleolithic female figurine found in 1908 at Willendorf, Austria. She is perhaps the most familiar of some 40 small portable human figures — mostly female — that had been found intact or nearly so by the early 21st century in Europe and Eurasia.

Venus of Willendorf – Photo: Don Hitchcock (Vienna Natural History Museum, 2008)
Venus of Willendorf – Photo: Don Hitchcock (Vienna Natural History Museum, 2008)
Venus of Willendorf – Photo: Don Hitchcock (Vienna Natural History Museum, 2008)
Venus of Willendorf – Photo: Don Hitchcock (Vienna Natural History Museum, 2008)
Venus of Willendorf – Photo: Don Hitchcock (Vienna Natural History Museum, 2008)
Venus of Willendorf – Photo: Don Hitchcock (Vienna Natural History Museum, 2015)

Dated to circa 28,000–25,000 BCE, the statuette — made of oolitic limestone tinted with red ochre pigment — is easily transportable by hand. Both its size and the material from which it was made — not found in Willendorf — are indicators that the artifact was made elsewhere and carried to Willendorf. Its arms, though visible, are negligible and crudely depicted. Though a head is present, the only detail to be seen is a pattern representing a braid or cap, there are no facial features. Feet too are missing and were probably never part of the overall design.

The first-known statuette of this kind to be uncovered by archaeologists was the so-called Venus impudique, a headless, footless and handless figure discovered in 1864 at a site in southwestern France. While, the oldest known among all Venus figurines is the Venus of Hohle Fels, between 35,000 and 40,000 years old, made of mammoth ivory, and found in a German cave in 2008.

Venus figurines and their geographic origins: (1) Venus of Willendorf (Rhine/Danube), (2) Lespugue Venus (Pyrenees/Aquitaine), (3) Laussel Venus (Pyrenees/Aquitaine), (4) Dolní Věstonice Venus (Rhine/Danube), (5) Gagarino no. 4 Venus (Russia), (6) Moravany Venus (Rhine/Danube), (7) Kostenki 1. Statuette no. 3 (Russia), (8) Venus of Grimaldi (Italy), (9) Chiozza di Scandiano Venus (Italy), (10) Petrkovice Venus (Rhine/Danube), (11) Modern sculpture (N. America), (12) Eleesivitchi Venus (Russia), (13) Savignano Venus (Italy), (14) The so-called “Brassempouy Venus” (Pyrenees/Aquitaine), (15) Hohle Fels Venus (SW Germany)

In december 2017, an italian woman named Laura Ghianda posted a photo of the ancient limestone nude on Facebook, only to have it removed for being deemed inappropriate. A more recent post on january 9 on the Wien Naturhistorisches Museum’s Facebook page calls attention to the censorship of Ghianda’s image. The post proclaims: “let the venus be naked!”

Meanwhile, as one of the most popular and beloved sculptures of all time, Venus of Willendorf has been celebrated in various ways, also becoming a strong symbol of female emancipation.

Unleash Your Inner GoddessNina Paley
The Birth of Venus of Willendorf (from The Birth of Venus) – Dan Cretu
Venus of Willendorf – James Lemire
Venus of Willendorf and Venus of Brassempouy in comparison – Jens Notroff
Venus of Willendorf – Shelley Lake
Marilyn Willendorf (Venus of Willendorf as Marilyn Monroe) – Ben Heine
Day 84: Venus of Willendorf – Britt Spencer
The Birth of Venus – Bryan Crowson
Sailor Venus of Willendorf – Tabascofanatikerin
De ça à ça: “Doudou, when did we go from that to this?” – Pacco Dorwling-Carter
Wilendorf: “Don’t you think this cutter makes me look fat?” – Octav Ungureanu
Venus and The Thinker (feat. Le Penseur / The Thinker, 1904, by Auguste Rodin) – Maria Scrivan
Venus of Willendorf – Safille
Venus of Willendorf – Teratoma

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