Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An Icon of Prehistoric Art

I knew immediately what my image of an icon would be!

I took an art class this fall, and one of the things that just fascinated me was the story of the oldest known carving, called the Venus of Willendorf. She is a tiny (4.5") statue unearthed in an archeologic dig in Austria, in the town of Willendorf. She was created about 22,000 BCE, in an age when we were hunter-gatherers and Europe was essentially in an ice age. She is carved of non-native limestone (what does that tell us?) and tinted ochre red.
What is she? She has large breasts and hips and striking detail of the labia of the vulva. Her arms are small, shown resting on her breasts. She has no feet, and cannot stand erect. She has no face. Or is it covered by a woven cap? Or is that braided hair? Or is it the face that mustn't be seen?

What was it like for a woman in the cold climates, thousands of years ago, hunting and foraging for food. Imagine being pregnant, giving birth. How many women, how many babies survived the cold? Did the mothers have enough milk to keep the babies alive? In such devastating times, a woman built like the Venus -- wide-hipped, well-stocked breasts, and extra fat -- would be well provided to be a survivor and provider for her babies.

Is she an "earth mother"? A goddess? A fertility symbol? A work of Art? Or is she merely Paleolithic Pornography? They say that her most satisfactory and satisfying position is to be held in the hand: she becomes a remarkably sensuous object. For women? For men? For children?

These figures have been found from western France to the far reaches of Siberia. Isn't she fascinating?

Construction: I made the background first, hoping to suggest layers unearthed by the archeologists. The venus figure is made of two layers of red charmuse held together with misti-fuse. Her details are done with thread-painting; I hope they show up clearly enough. Then I printed some tidbits of information on Jaquard organza, and stitched them here and there on the front. The back tells the story of the Venus, printed on sticky-backed Pabric.

It's fun to google "the Venus of Willendorf."


  1. How interesting! I see the layers and I like the way she is superimposed over the background. Great job!

  2. How much fun people had with this word. And how much thought put into the pieces. This one is a wonderful example of the thought everyone put into their works and then goes on to raise questions....very, very good. Helen