The Willendorf figurine is probably the most famous prehistoric sculpture in the world. Found near the fireplace of an open air camp site, this nude sculpted from limestone and coloured with red ochre has become the stereotype for Ice Age female figures so often inappropriately referred to as ‘Venuses’ . In fact, she is exceptional. Shown standing with knees together and feet apart, her bowed head is decorated to suggest what might be a fur hat or a braided hairstyle. She has no face but seems to look towards her right breast. Her shoulders are small above thin arms, which bend at her waist so the hands rest on top of her heavy breasts. She wears bracelets on her wrists. Her stomach is heavy, punctuated with a navel and overhangs a prominent sexual triangle above strong thighs. On the back, a horizontal groove at top of the thighs may have been a means of supporting the figure against an angular rock so that she could be displayed standing. Her lower legs are disproportionately short and she has no feet but these may have lost due to ancient damage. From the back, her well rounded buttocks appear flattened and pushed upwards which, in frontal and outline view, gives soft three dimensional curves to her full figure.
Variously interpreted as obese, pregnant or both, there is great realism in this sculpture. Unlike a classical representation of Venus, Willendorf does not try to veil her nudity with gestures which only serve to emphasise an erotic sexuality. Her power and charm are not a tease but are presented as a matter of quite ordinary fact but we have no idea what this meant to the original owners.
10.6 cms high; 5.7 cms wide; 4.5 cms thick.
Willendorf, Krems, Lower Austria.
Culture taking its name from the La Gravette site, Dordogne, France, and lasted from about 28,000 years ago until 22,000 years ago. Original elements in Gravettian cave art include the use of hand stencils, and the type of female statuette widely but incorrectly known as 'Venus' first appear in the portable art of this period.
Source: Dr Jean Clottes