The Venus of Willendorf was created circa 28.000-25.000 BCE, in Lower Austria. I have drawn it from 3 sides. Itis an 11.1-centimetre-tall (4.4 in) and I made sure that the Venus of my drawing is exactly 11.1 centimetres tall. What do you see? You see a faceless woman with large breasts, big hips, missing feet, and two tiny arms resting on the Venus’s breasts. Such unevenly distributed body fat is rare unless a disease is featured. But even if a diseased woman is shown, we can not function without a face and it is much better to have feet. This selective and exaggerated expression of features has lead to the speculation that this figurine is expressing an idea and not a person (selfies become fashionable much later). Is the Venus expressing fertility? It is hard to dismiss this assumption. Upon seeing this cute but impressive female figurine, my first reaction is ‘This woman can feed many babies’. Like my grandmother, who at WWII gave breastfeeding to her own baby and to three babies born to mothers who suffered under the food-shortages or war trauma. Having said this, a big breast-size doesn’t guarantee breastfeeding. Nursing a baby sufficiently is about milk-glands, not about fat. Still, the Venus of Willendorf has two skinny arms positioned on her large breasts. One could say, proudly resting on her breasts, as if to show that her breasts are her biggest treasure. This Venus is, in our eyes, related to fertility and not to sexiness, so many refer to this figurine as ‘The Woman of Willendorf’. Christopher Witcombe criticizes: “The ironic identification of these figurines as ‘Venus’ pleasantly satisfied certain assumptions at the time about the primitive, about women, and about taste”. I agree despite the possibilities that how a good looking woman looked like could have been differently defined 30.000 years ago, if such definition or feeling was lingering in the mind of prehistoric people at all. Certainly maximising the survival of babies was hugely important and with that in mind, the Venus of Willendorf would indeed be better named as the Woman or even Mother of Willendorf.
My original drawing and one art print is available at my Etsy and I like to point out that Potted History, at www.pottedhistory.co.uk/ has made some lovely Venus of Willendorf replicas.
And let me know when you have bought my booklet: I will send you an Ex Libris. State your request for the Raphael Apostle, the Raphael Horse or the Old Tree Ex Libris.
More news: all hand embroidered Duck Couples and my Woolly Rhinoceros are now listed on Etsy. You will be surprised how low I keep my prices. I have to do that because shipping is so expensive and I think art and crafts should be affordable.
To reconnect with nature and with the past, we recently visited a few burial mounts near Ootmarsum in Twente (NL). This is a protected archaeological site and visiting this sleepy site feels as if one enters a thin place.
Here was found the ‘Man of Mander’, a shadow figure in stone (body imprint in stone) of a person almost of 2 metres tall and having no feet. He has probably been a Stone Age hunter or farmer. As a burial gift, for the Afterlife, he carried a stone arrow head. Why his feet are missing asks for careful analysing. One explanation could be that he was encouraged by his tribal members not to dwell on Earth as a spirit, instead to journey to the After Life.
This area has had its burial chambers too, or ‘hunnebedden’ in Dutch, but they have long gone. Farmers and builders were, like us, eager to re-use large stones for building a nearby church and a pigsty. This sounds grinch-worthyand it surely is, but stones have a habit of looking perfect for re-using.
Standing there, in the cold, enchanted by the place, I read a poem about the burial mounts written by Mr. B.W.A.E baron Sloet tot Olthuys (1807-1884). The poem describes how the poet stands, like we did, near the burial mounts and muses about who lies there ‘sleeping for centuries’. All the sudden the poet becomes aware of a man. The man starts asking him questions. How is to believe in one god instead of many; how it is to work for another instead as for oneself? Is the poet as free and as in harmony has he, the Stone Age hunter, feels? I loved reading this poem because of the importance of empathy and asking questions (Cognitive Archaeology). Studying the unwritten past is like looking into a mirror and seeing our modern life and conditioning reflected. Asking questions to those living in the past is making an effort to step outside oneself, which is a very difficult yet wise thing to do from time to time.