Venus of Willendorf

venus of willendorf

The Venus of Willendorf, also known as the ‘Woman of Willendorf,’ is an 11 cm (4.3 in) high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been made between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria. It is carved from an oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. Several similar statuettes and other forms of art have been discovered, and they are collectively referred to as ‘Venus figurines,’ although they pre-date the mythological figure of Venus by millennia. The Willendorf figure was named following a model already over fifty years old, and shares many characteristics with other figures.

After a wide variety of proposed dates, following a revised analysis of the stratigraphy of its site in 1990, the figure has been estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE. Very little is known about its origin, method of creation, or cultural significance. The Venus of Willendorf was recovered in a site that also contained a few amulets of Moldavite. The purpose of the carving is the subject of much speculation. It never had feet and does not stand on its own. The apparent large size of the breasts and abdomen, and the detail put into the vulva, have led scholars to interpret the figure as a fertility symbol. The figure has no visible face, her head being covered with circular horizontal bands of what might be rows of plaited hair, or a type of headdress. She was thought to be very healthy given her weight and size.

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