To deepen my understanding of female prehistoric figurines, I have set out to draw a few of them. Clockwise starting with tge middle-lower sitting woman, you find Courbet Venus, carved in a seated position, about 14.900 years old. Followed by the Venus of Polichinelle, carved in green steatite, 27.000 years old, found at Grimaldi. The strictly stylised engraved Lalinde Venus (there are more than one) found in Gönnersdorf in Germany, in Abri Murat and Gare de Couze in France, Pekárna in the Czech Republic, and Wilczyce in Poland. Stone Age. Further clockwise; Venus figures from Wilczyce, followed by another Gönnersdorf figurine. Then, Petersfels Venus that is made of jet, circa 15. 000 BP- 2.000 BP. Another Gönnersdorf engraving and last, Venus from Nebra, 15.000 years old, animal bone.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? You can’t possible blame prehistoric peoples for a lack of body diversity. But why the concentration on bellies and buttons, and why are heads and feet missing? Most look either emaciated, nursing or pregnant. Are some suffering from chronic diseases? Did it matter how a female looked like, or was the first piece of bone or stone vaguely resembling and therefore symbolising a (perhaps departed) woman okay for whatever ritual? Some look crudely abstract, others are enchantingly elegant, as if they are the first sketched outlines of ballerinas in action. I have chosen an ochre background as this pigment was hugely important to prehistoric peoples.
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The Venus of Willendorf was created circa 28.000-25.000 BCE, in Lower Austria. I have drawn it from 3 sides. It is 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.
Lion-man, 40.000 years old, from Hohlenstein Stadel, Germany. ‘Man’ stands here for human, because its gender of this statutes is uncertain. This statute is 11 cm height, 3 times taller than Venus. Lion-man is half man- half animal. Both Venus and Lion-man are shown against a Lascaux themed background that shows the stick topped by a bird of the shamanistic scene of Lascaux ‘Prostrate man with bison’, hand prints as found in many prehistoric caves, ‘Engraved deer’ and ‘Large black cow’, both Lascaux paintings.
My original drawing and one art print is available at my Etsy and I like to point out that Potted History @pottedhistory on Instagram, who has made some lovely Venus of Willendorf replicas.
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Art Print at Etsy
Original Drawing at Etsy