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venus of willendorph

Medium: Oolitic limestone

Dimensions: 11.5 cm high

Year: c. 24,000-22,000 B.C.E. (Upper Paleolithic era)

Discovered: found in Austria

Location of creation:

Current Location: Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna

Theme: Venus; Fertility

Subject: Woman

sculpture summary

Created during the Upper Paleolithic era, given the title of Venus, this small statuette, discovered in Willendorf (Austria), is the oldest known work of art.

general description

This tiny sculpture depicts a faceless female nude, with a sort of crown carved with a repeating motif (that resembles a braided hairstyle). The curves of the woman’s body are also exaggerated in volume, depicting an obese woman.

In 1864 Paul Hurault, an amateur archaeologist, named a small sculpture he found Venus Impudique (immodest Venus), after the goddess of love and beauty, due to its voluptuous forms. Almost half a century later, in 1908, Johann Veran (Josef Szombathy) discovered this tiny statue and named it Venus of Willendorf, after the place where it was found in Austria.

Considered to be one of the most mysterious sculptures in the world, it is the oldest work of art known to man. This statuette is also seen as the founding work of the Paleolithic era, also known as the ‘Old Stone Age’.

Although the sculpture predates the myth of Venus for 20000 years, it is still believed to be a fertility goddess, or a Venus figurine or fertility figurine; despite this connection to fertility, its purpose, origins, and intent, is still unknown; besides its date, very little is known about its origins, aim or function.

The exaggerated features of the curvaceous female body is easily associated with reproduction and fertility; the rounded abdomen, large breasts and hips, celebrates femininity, goddesses, and eroticism. The absence of facial features, greatly adds to the focus on the voluptuous forms. The crown, composed of seven horizontal bands wrapped in concentric circles, is believed to be either a knit cap pulled downwards or braided hair. Very little attention was given to the upper limbs, which is highly enigmatic. The small size of her feet allows us to understand that she was not meant to be freestanding, but possible carried around;

This sculpture was carved from limestone and tinged with red ochre. Even though the work depicts the female in a crude and caricaturesque manner, some of its details are precisely and rhythmically rendered, showing a great deal of technical sophistication, something highly skillful for the time in question.

related works

Discovery: Paleolithic site Dolní Věstonice in the Moravian basin south of Brno, in the base of Děvín Mountain
Title: Venus of Dolní Věstonice
Date: 29,000 – 25,000 BC
Medium: Ceramic
Size: 1.8 cm in Height
Movement/Period: Paleolithic
Location: Moravské zemské muzeum, Brno, Czech Republic

(CC BY-SA 2.5 – Petr Novák, Wikipedia)

Discovery: 1991, at the construction of the N5 highway, at Monruz in the municipality of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Title: Venus of Monruz
Date: 13000 BC
Medium: Black jet
Size: 1.8 cm in Height
Movement/Period: Magdalenian
Location: Neuchâtel, Switzerland

(CC BY-SA 3.0 – Y. André)

Discovery: 2008 in Hohle Fels, a cave near Schelklingen, Germany
Title: Venus of Hohle Fels / Venus of Schelklingen
Date: 40.000-35.000
Medium: Mammoth tusk ivory
Size: 6 cm in Height
Movement/Period: Upper Paleolithic
Location: Prehistoric Museum of Blaubeuren, Germany

(CC BY-SA 3.0 – Ramessos)

Discovery: Slovakia in the early 20th century
Title: Venus of Moravany
Date: 22,800 BC
Medium: Mammoth tusk ivory
Size: unknown
Movement/Period: Upper Paleolithic
Location: Slovak National Museum, Slovakia

(Author: Martin Hlauka (Pescan))

Discovery: Modesto Cubillas, in Altamira
Title: Reproduction of a bison of the cave of Altamira
Date: 32 000 BC
Medium: Charcoal and ochre or hematite
Size: unknown
Movement/Period: Paleolithic
Location: National Museum and Research Center of Altamira, Cantabria, Spain

(Author: Ramessos)