The Woman of Willendorf was discovered in 1908 by the archaeologist Josef Szombathy. The sculpture is one of the greatest findings in art history and is considered a significant symbol of what we know about beauty from the past. The Woman of Willendorf
was found in an Aurignacian loess deposit in a terrace about 30 meters above the Danube River (Witcombe 1). She was originally named the Venus of Willendorf because it was first suggested that the sculpture was a “Venus figure” or “Goddess,” used as a symbol of fertility. Author Marilyn Stokstad indicates this “distortion” was made “by the names early scholars gave to the hundreds of small prehistoric statues of women they found. They called them by the Roman name “Venus”.
In a short time, most similar works of sculpture from the Upper Paleolithic period came to be known as Venus figures. The name was repeated so often that even scholars began to assume that these had to be fertility figures and mother goddesses, although there is no proof that this was so” (Stockstad 5). The early scholars used the name of the Roman goddess of love and beauty, hence illustrating a connection with religious beliefs. Also, persons during this time period started to consider that she represented a typical statue of womanhood and that she was the definition of “classical” beauty. However, many pieces of art that were discovered soon after the Woman of Willendorf had very similar names. Scholars started to assume that all these findings had to do with mother goddesses and fertility figures giving them the wrong impression considering no proof existed. When her name was changed from the Venus of Willendorf to the Woman of Willendorf. The last part of her name, Willendorf, was given to her because she was discovered near the town of Willendorf in Austria.
This finding was such an important breakthrough that she changed the minds of many people on how they perceive beauty today. She is the most famous early image of a woman ever discovered.
There are hundreds of these amazing pieces of miniature art that exist and each and every one is extremely detailed. A majority of these statues are carved from oolitic limestone, a more common substance used during the time period instead of ivory which was much more rare, and are colored with red orche. Since she is made of limestone, it is easy to come to the conclusion that she wasn’t an idol or a God. If she were a figure worthy of worship, she would be made out of better resources showing she was more valued or more important. This figurine measure approximately 11.1 centimeters in height and are small enough to fit in one’s pocket. She is dated and introduced in 22,000 to 21,000 BCE. She was one of the first pieces of art ever discovered in the Upper Paleolithic period, also referred to as the Old Stone Age (40,000-8,000 BCE) (Stokstad 5).
The Woman of Willendorf is thought to be a symbol of fertility. She has a distended stomach that sticks out extremely far and she has enlarged breasts that are emphasized more than any other part of her body. Her wedged out stomach symbolizes that she could possibly be trying to get pregnant if she is not already pregnant. Her large breasts symbolize the perfect shape and size of a woman who gave birth or is about to give birth. They represent and show that she is a good model that can produce lots of nutrients for her and her spouse’s young. Her pubic area is greatly emphasized showing the importance that she is a woman. She has a large bellybutton that is extremely noticeable, drawing attention to the stomach area where babies are developed. The red ochre pigment covering her stomach has been thought to symbolize menstrual blood seen as a life-giving agent. She also has noticeably large hips, possibly designed to represent child-bearing hips. Even today it is thought of as a good asset to have large hips for the same reasons as why it was values so much during this time period. It has been suggested that the larger a woman’s hips are correlates directly to a better chance that labor and delivery will be a success.