Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The "Venus of Willendorf"

           The “Venus” of Willendorf is a carved statuette of a female figurine, carved out of limestone, and discovered around 1908.  The figurine has very prominent breasts, a prominent stomach, full thighs and buttocks, and shows details of the pubic area.  The first person to label the statue “Venus” of Willendorf was Josef Szombathy in an article he published in 1909.  It was then followed a year later by a reference from MacCurdy in a Smithsonian report.   They were the first ones to label the Willendorf figurine but not the first ones to label such prehistoric female statuettes.

 Prior to the find of the “Venus” of Willendorf there had been others.   Examples include the “Venus impudique”, a headless, armless, footless ivory statuette found in Laugerie-Basse by the Marquis Paul de Vibraye, and the statuette found by Edouard Piette.  Piette’s statue, which was originally called “the pear”, is a torso which gives attention to the figures vulva’s labia and the protruding pubic area. 
Szombathy and MacCurdy seem to associate the Willendorf figure as a “Venus” because of the prior associations that were made with the other similar prehistoric statuettes mentioned.  They all share common characteristics of a female figure, with details given to the sexual areas, the pubic area and to the breasts.  They are all unclothed and give no hint that there were any attempts made on the original sculptor’s part to cover the statuette’s nudity.  They seem to be all adult women, some at different stages womanhood.  The three statuettes also seem to share a feeling that seems very primal in their nudity and give off an aura of sexuality, especially the Venus of Willendorf.
When we think of the connotation of the name Venus, most would associate her with the Roman goddess of love and beauty.  And most would then associate her with the classical portrayals of the goddess done by Praxiteles, the “Venus pudica” during the 4th century BCE, the Capitoline Venus, the Medici Venus, and the painting done by Botticelli in his painting “The Birth of the Venus”, all portray a very Classical and Renaissance style to the Venuses.  It is of a young nude woman who is tall, with a proportioned body that is neither fat nor thin.  The breasts are small and are usually partially concealed.  The pubic area is not defined and, like the breasts, they are usually concealed. She is usually considered beautiful and graceful, and almost demure in the way she conceals parts of her sexuality. 
This is very different from the “Venus” of Willendorf.  She has very enlarged hanging breasts that are in no way concealed, they are almost emphasized by her small arms that seem to frame her breasts and her protruding body.  She is very noticeably fat and this is seen in the roll of fat around her body, her large breasts and large thighs.  Unlike the Classical Venuses, there is no attempt to conceal her body.  Again she seems primitive in her unadorned nakedness.  The lines used to define and shape her are sometimes simple grooves made into the limestone and the lack of detail given to the face and feet,  lend more of a primitive feel to the statuette, compared to the all correct anatomical details and proportion given to the statue of the “Venus Pudica”.
It seems ironic then that Szombathy, would name the statuette from Willendorf “Venus” when they were so noticeably different.  But then that seems to be the point for him and the other archaeologists.  In naming the statuette “Venus”, he instead draws the viewer’s attention to the differences in the Willendorf Venus from the more Classical and Renaissance Venuses.  The connotation of the Venus of classical beauty and demure sexuality, a goddess to be worshipped from afar.   And yet for how different they are in detail and form, they still share the characteristics of a sexual woman, who could have been as highly regarded as a work of art and beauty, and revered and desired by men as much as the Classical statues of Venus were during their time.  Maybe then our view of what a Venus should be, could incorporate this more primitive and very sexual woman of Willendorf, and no longer hold onto the rigid ideals of what she has been, of a classical demure goddess.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Introduction about myself

I'm a biologist with a love of art.  My background in biology includes whale watching in Hawaii, monitoring wild bluebird eggs in California, banding birds in West Virginia, and working with salmon mitigation here in Washington.  I'm from Minnesota, but I've loved to travel from an early age.  Seeing art from different countries and cultures has always sucked me in and drawn my interest.

Currently, I am pursuing a degree in graphic design.  I would love to combine my biology background and my love of the outdoors with my love of art.  I hope to work in the design or public information department for an environmental firm, wildlife group, or government wildlife department.

I'm interested in art history and I am hoping to learn about the different periods and styles of art to give me a solid background for designing.