~ Mother's Day
by Amanda Formaro
Age: 3 and up
This lovely little vase is perfect for spring, Mother’s Day,
Grandparent’s Day or any occasion that involves the beauty of
flowers. This painted jar doubles as a keepsake as it's made with
your child’s fingerprints!
What you'll need:
∙ Empty glass jar
∙ Enamel paint (purple, pink, yellow)
How to make it:
∙ First, be sure to read the instructions on the back of the enamel
∙ Be sure glass jar is clean, dry, and all labels have been
∙ Have children dip their fingertips into the paint and dot onto the
glass to form the petals of the flowers.
∙ Repeat this process to dot on the flower centers--alternate the
colors (purple flower, yellow center, pink flower, purple center,
∙ Let paint dry and cure according to directions on enamel paint
bottle. This may require baking in the oven, or a longer alternative
is air drying for up to three weeks before using.
∙ Hold jar by the mouth to avoid bumping or grabbing any wet paint.
∙ Acrylic paints can be used; however they will wash off if jar is
washed. To protect it better, you can spray entire surface with
acrylic sealer, however this can diminish the shiny surface of the
∙ Top off this keepsake by making bouquet of photo flowers to put
MY MOTHER: One Goddess, Many
Continued . . .All these Goddesses, all their peculiarities
are derived from Willendorf Mother. She embraces all the emotions
and attributes found in all the later Goddesses. Choose an emotion,
positive or seemingly negative, such as rage. Righteous rage can be
found in Sekhmet, or any mother protecting her child. Grief? When
Demeter’s daughter Persephone went into the Underworld Demeter’s
grief plunged the world into winter. A mother never gives up looking
for a missing child. Athena is the epitome of Warrior. A mother
battles to give her child what it needs. Love and the connectiveness
of all things is woven by Native American’s SpiderWoman.
Grandmother, mother, child, all share DNA.
Mothers show all emotions. Not all of them constructive, but all of
them informative. We learn from our mothers. We learn what it means
to be a healthy individual. We also learn, by observation, what it
means to be unhealthy. Whether your relationship with your mother
was more positive or more negative, you owe her your life. Whether
you were planned or not, after nine months of carrying you beneath
her heart, I’m sure her heart overflowed with love the first time
she looked upon your face.
There are no guide books to teach mothers how to deal with a
particular baby. Even if you were not the first, you are unique–no
manual. You learned, together, what your relationship would be. Each
of you needed to learn how to maneuver, how to dance the
relationship of mother and child.
Mothers are patient. As patient as Willendorf waiting to discovered.
Perhaps a mother waits for you to reconnect.
Whether your mother is still dancing the complex interconnection
with you, or if she is in another plane of existence–no matter. Half
of your genetic makeup is from your mother, she lives in you. Honor
your mother. To a large degree, whatever good resides in you today
is directly attributable to her.
From Willendorf, through the countless Goddesses throughout time, to
your own mother–all are Divine and worthy of your love and respect.
by Anita Hunter
Continued . . . To understand how we recognise beauty it is
worth considering how we as humans deal with images that we see.
Humans are master classifiers, constantly comparing new objects and
experiences against what they have encountered previously. If we
find beauty, it is by comparison to what we have met before. Good
and bad experiences will also bias individual perception. We may
favour red heads if our first sweetheart had Titian hair. Or prefer
blondes to brunettes if we were dumped by a dark-haired Romeo.
Upbringing and cultural influences also dictate the criteria we use
to make comparisons. A racist is likely to exclude other ethnic
groups from their perception of beauty. And the notion that `blondes
have more fun' may seem ludicrous and irrational but this is a
criteria that is deeply embedded in the unconscious way many of us
judge beauty. Blondeness certainly seems to be a prerequisite for
today's female television personalities. The enormous popularity of
the Barbie doll and the hungry market for bleaches and highlighting
products reflect a widespread desire for lighter hair.
This classifying and comparing means that, to quote Desmond Morris,
“Beauty is in the brain of the beholder”. The 18th century Scottish
philosopher David Hume put it more poetically - “Beauty is no
quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which
Sculptures, painters and more recently photographers have been
recorders and often arbiters of tastes in beauty. By creating a
flattering portrait, depicting a certain look or capturing their own
idealized image of femininity, they have been instrumental in
determining what is considered to be beautiful.
The classical Greek ideal of beauty was a strong profile, with nose
and forehead running in a line, a short upper lip and smooth
features. This was embodied in the sculptures of Aphrodite, the
goddess of love and in her Roman counterpart, Venus. Grecian beauty
involved symmetry and proportion. Pliny the elder wrote of the
sculptor Xeuxis who, unable to find a model who embodied his ideal,
chose five women, the sum of whose physical attributes met his idea
The classical conventions of beauty have had a huge influence and
over the centuries have been constantly revisited. There was a major
change after the disintegration of the Roman Empire when art became
the servant of the spreading religion Christianity. Art was used to
inspire devotion. Visions of femininity were found in
representations of the Madonna. Icons were painstakingly copied and
artists worked using illustrations rather than live models. As a
result, there was a tendency for the depiction of beauty to became
stylised and artificial. Gothic attitudes to the female form had a
strong influence on feminine imagery. The association of women with
Eve, temptation and sin meant that by the 15th Century, beauty was
only depicted in the context of either the Madonna or the
The Italian Renaissance was an important turning point. Stylised and
rather artificial ideals were replaced by naturalism. Serious
studies of the human body allowed theories of beauty to be
developed. Raphael, De Vinci, Titian and Georgione were influential
in depicting and thereby spreading the concept of an ideal beauty.
To be as `Beautiful as a Raphael Madonna' was the ultimate
compliment. Michaelangelo's `Tute Divine' was particularly
influential. In De Vinci's drawings and paintings, his subjects are
enhanced by enigmatic half smiles and he employed subtle techniques
of illumination and misting to create luminous beauty.
Dutch and Flemish artists were particularly influential in the 17th
century. Rubens and Rembrandt introduced more realistic and comely
ideals of beauty. Rubens portrayed the big, plump women that he
adored. Rembrandt was influenced by the Renaissance ideals but he
depicted women in a more natural way. Van Dyck painted epic
portraits of Europe's aristocracy and captured the opulence of the
courts. Dutch born Sir Peter Lely was a successor to Van Dyck in the
Restoration court of Charles II. He painted a lush, voluptuous image
of femininity, inspired by the French born Queen Henrietta Maria. A
full figure, heavy eyelids and a sleepy expression became the vogue.
Pale complexions were enhanced by rosy cheeks and a pouting mouth
with a small lower lip.
Bigger, more voluptuous women were also celebrated in the paintings
of Rococo artist Boucher (1703 – 70). His ravishing paintings
captured the extravagance and elegant superficiality of the French
court. His subjects included Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis
XV, renowned for her beauty.
With neo-classicism (1770-1820) came a nostalgia for classical
Greece and a revival of classical concepts of beauty. The depiction
of femininity became an important theme in Art. Regency ideals were
an embodiment of the statues of ancient Greece – a slender figure
with high, rounded breasts, wearing a simple dress of clinging
In Victorian society there was a vogue for pale, almost emaciated
beauty. Elizabeth Sidall was Rossetti's model for eleven years until
her death in 1862. She was the archetypal Pre-Raphaelite beauty.
Madox Brown wrote of watching Rossetti draw picture after picture of
her, with each one “looking thinner and more deathlike and more
beautiful and more ragged than ever.” French writer Octav Marbeau
observed that of the mythical ladies of legend depicted by Edward
Burne-Jones, he was unable to tell whether their “bruised eyes are
the result of onanism, saphism, natural love or tuberculosis.” Was
this a Victorian version of the recent `waif' look?
The forerunner of the modern image of femininity was the Gibson
girl. Created by the American illustrator Charles Dana Gibson in the
1890's, she was inspired by the privileged and spirited Langhorne
sisters (of whom Nancy went on to become Lady Astor). Gibson's
drawings captured the mood of the day. His women were tall with long
elegant necks, tiny waists. Their corseted S-shaped bodies dominated
the iconography of women for nearly two decades. The American
influence on conventions of beauty has remained huge. English models
may have captured the look in the 1960's and again this decade, but
in general the most successful models conform to American
stereotypes. Although there does seem to be a wider appreciation of
different types of beauty in today's fashion business, white
Caucasian women are still in the majority. As B Rudolph wrote in
Time magazine's 1991 cover story on supermodels “in every country
blond hair and blue eyes sell.”
Hollywood has had an enormous influence in popularising new fashions
and producing new female icons. A photogenic face was (and is) an
essential requirement of all but the best character actresses. By
designating certain physical features as desirable feminine
attributes, Hollywood has dictated what every cinema going woman
should aspire to in order to be considered beautiful. Even today,
top movie stars compete with the super-models as the ultimate icons
of beauty. It is no surprise that many film stars began their
careers in modeling, and that actresses such as Elizabeth Hurley and
Melanie Griffith have contracts to represent major cosmetics
As fashion photography grew in the 20th century, photographers began
to assume the role of arbiters of beauty. Determining `the look',
setting standards and influencing taste. Designers, fashion editor,
make-up artist and photographers all collaborate to determine the
fashionable look, but today it is the top photographers who yield
the most power. Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier and Mario
Testino are renowned for their Svengali like abilities, plucking
young models out of obscurity and repackaging them as the latest
talent. This constant search for a new look and a new face sometimes
means that style and beauty are confused. Although widely adopted on
the catwalk and in magazines, emaciated and unkempt `heroin chic'
models were hardly attractive, just fashionable. The models
themselves may have been beautiful but the representation was one of
ugliness and despair.
Some of the changing concepts of beauty are dictated not by artists
and photographers but by a dominant cultural influence. This has
often been a person or an influential group of people. The monarchy
and aristocracy have often led new fashions. Elizabeth I was a great
influence on what was considered to be beautiful during her reign.
By wearing her red hair without a head-dress, she created an
appreciation for both colour and uncovered hair. The ultimate
complexion was pale with an appearance of transparency; the desired
effect was achieved by painting veins onto a white face paint made
from mercury and lead compounds. The eyebrows and forehead were
plucked to create a fashionably high forehead. Portraiture was the
medium with which beauty ideals were spread outside the Royal Court
circles and throughout her life, Elizabeth I endeavoured to retain
her place as an icon of beauty by ensuring her portraits reflected
an image frozen from her youth.
During the Stuart period, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King
Charles I, was a leader of fashion and set the trends for
contemporary beauty. Idealised portraits by artists such as Van Dyke
helped to ensure that a flattering version of her looks set the
standards of the day. Her curly hair, fuller figure and rounded face
set the measure against which feminine beauty was judged.
Although the classical ideal of beauty involved particular
proportions, it has always been recognised that the unusual or
quirky can also be beautiful. In `Of Beauty' Francis Bacon wrote
“there is no excellent beauty that has not some strangeness in the
proportion.” The current trend for different or unusual models
reflects a degree of boredom with the perfection of the supermodels
and a healthy desire for a wider conception of what is considered
beauty. The standard has widened. Make up artist Bobbi Brown
confirms “Today, beauty is a much more eclectic collection of
features and colors.”
Gender signals, that identify the different sexes, play an important
role in determining what is considered to be beautiful. In our
historically patriarchal society, certain female gender signals have
been equated with beauty. Rounded breasts, a large bottom, small
feet and pouting lips all signal at a sexual, gender level. Fashions
have frequently served to emphasise these female traits and
therefore emphasise femininity. Bustles, corsets, wonderbras and
lipstick have all been used to exaggerate female features. Because
males are more hirsute, smooth hairless skin (whether shaved,
plucked, waxed, sugared or depilated) is a powerful female gender
signal and is therefore considered an attractive female asset.
Sexual allure is very integral to what men find attractive and is a
factor that women have exploited by the use of self-mimicry. Fleshy,
reddened lips and large rounded breasts mimic the buttocks and labia
(so ponder what you are doing next time you reach for the
lipstick!). In 1911 charlotte Perkin Gilman complained that “much of
what men consider beautiful in women is not human beauty at all but
gross over-development of certain points that appeal to him as a
Sometimes beauty is characterized in an excessively exaggerated
gender signal or `supernormal stimuli'. Body molding (or distorting)
clothes and plastic surgery aim to improve on nature and heighten
the impact of selected features. Supernormal stimuli are often
present in the art of primitive society; the ancient `Venus of
Willendorf' exaggerates the breasts and hips in the same way as the
corsets and crinolines of Victorian fashions. The current popularity
of breast implants and the huge success of siliconised beauties such
as Pamela Anderson and Melinda Messenger reflect a modern
appreciation of supernormal stimuli. The incredibly long legs of
models such as Nadja Auermann and Naomi Campbell (and also of
illustrated beauties such as the Vargas girls and Jessica Rabbit)
are also a type of exaggerated gender signal. The appreciation of
long legs is rooted in sexuality and the rapid leg lengthening that
occurs as girls reach maturity.
The pressure to manipulate our bodies in the pursuit of beauty comes
from the emphasis of appearance as the hallmark of Western beauty.
Cosmetic surgery is perhaps the most drastic way that women try to
improve their faces and bodies, to create or retain what is deemed
attractive. Although many women claim that cosmetic surgery is
something that they are `doing for themselves', the beauty that they
aspire to is of male creation. It is the male gaze, looking and
appreciating within a sexual context that has been the most
influential arbiter of what we deem to be beauty.
Women in Prehistory:
The Venus of Willendorf
by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Continued . . . When first discovered, the statuette was
identified as "Venus." Szombathy refers to her as the "Venus of
Willendorf" in an article published in 1909 [see BIBLIOGRAPHY]. A
year or so later, MacCurdy refers to her as the "so-called Venus of
Willendorf" in Smithsonian Report for 1909 (published in 1911) [see
The name "Venus" had first been used, in a tone of mocking irony, in
1864 by the Marquis Paul de Vibraye who described a headless,
armless, footless ivory statuette he discovered at Laugerie-Basse in
the Vèzère valley in the Dordogne as a "Vénus impudique" or
"immodest Venus" (now in the Musée de l'Homme, Paris).
The Marquis, of course, was playfully reversing the appellation of
"Venus pudica" ("modest Venus") that is used to describe a statue
type of the Classical Venus which shows, in the Capitoline Venus for
example, the goddess attempting to conceal her breasts and pubic
area from view. The inference the Marquis makes is that this
prehistoric Venus makes no attempt to hide her sexuality.
The name "Venus" was subsequently adopted by Édouard Piette
(1827-1906) [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], who used it to describe an ivory
figurine, of which only the corpulent torso survives, found in 1892
in the "Grotte du Pape" at Brassempouy in the Department of Les
Landes and now in the Musée St. Germain-en-Laye.
She was originally nicknamed la poire - "the pear" - on account of
her shape. For Piette, the name "Venus" may have come to mind in
this particular instance because of the emphatic treatment of the
vulva's labia and the prominent, slightly protruding pubic area,
which he tastefully refers to as "le mont de Vénus" - the mound of
Venus (or mons pubis). "Venus" has since become the collective term
used to identify all obese Palaeolithic statuettes of women.
The ironic identification of these figurines as "Venus" pleasantly
satisfied certain assumptions at the time about the primitive, about
women, and about taste. Venus, of course, was the Classical goddess
of sexual love and beauty.
Known to the Greeks as Aphrodite, statues of her nude proliferated
in the Mediterranean world from the 4th century BCE on, beginning
with that carved by Praxiteles for the sanctuary on the Island of
From the Praxiteles model there developed a type of freestanding
female nude that came to be known as the "Venus pudica" or "modest
Venus," mentioned above, whose pose shows the goddess attempting to
conceal her breasts and pubic area from view.
Two well-known examples of this type are the Capitoline Venus (in
the Museo Capitolino in Rome), and the Medici Venus (in the Galleria
degli Uffizi in Florence)
In the 15th century, the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro
Botticelli revived this same pose in his painting The Birth of Venus
and initiated a renewed interest in the Classical Venus.
So familiar is she in the west, that the name Venus instantly
conjures in the mind an image of a tall, erotically curvaceous, nude
young woman whose primary identity, as every heterosexual male
recognizes, resides in her physical and sexual body.
The Classical and Renaissance Venus's physicality and sexuality,
though, are treated with a high degree of civilized restraint. In
comparison with the "Venus" of Willendorf, the breasts of the
Classical Venus are small, her pubic area is undefined (no
indication of the vulva, no definition of the labia), and her
stomach, hips, and buttocks are given no particular emphasis.
In other words, she exhibits a tasteful, civilized response to
female sexuality that involves both the display but also the
suppression of its more physical aspects.
The beginning of "history" - the shift from the prehistoric to the
historic, a step marked by the advent of writing - also marks for
some the move from the primitive to the civilized. The Willendorf
figurine nicely illustrates the contrast. Her bulging, bulbous body,
large breasts, ample abdomen, and vulva slit manifest unrefined,
uncivilized, "primitive" taste.
She also exhibits, in ways that are at once appealing (to most
women, perhaps) and threatening (to most men, perhaps), a physical
and sexual self that seems unrestrained, unfettered by cultural
taboos and social conventions. She is an image of "natural"
femaleness, of uninhibited female power, which "civilization," in
the figure of the Classical Venus, later sought to curtail and bring
To identify the Willendorf figurine as "Venus," then, was a rich,
male joke that neatly linked the primitive and the female with the
uncivilized and at the same time, through implicit contrast with the
Classical Venus, served as a reassuring example to the patriarchal
culture of the extent to which the female and female sexuality had
been overcome and women effectively subjugated by the male-dominated
By naming her "Venus," a set of associations is brought to the image
that influences our response to what we see. In one respect, she
becomes a negative image, a "failed Venus" who, by the standards of
the Classical Venus, is not beautiful and is not sexually
The name "Venus" also encourages us to judge her as a piece of
sculpture against the standards of idealized Greek, Roman, and
Renaissance art, where she again fails miserably.
There is also a sex/gender conflict; between female and feminine.
From a patriarchal western culture point of view, the Classical
Venus is both sexually female and also feminine in terms of gender.
According to current theory, while sex is biological, the product of
nature, gender is to be understood as social, the product of nurture
The nurture and culture paradigm that has been defining the feminine
in the west since the Greeks is a patriarchal one. The feminine, in
terms of gender identification, as it has come to be identified in
western culture, is arguably partially, or even wholly, a male
The "Venus" of Willendorf is visibly biologically female, but she is
not feminine; the name "Venus" imposes upon her a gendered
femininity that she does not have, so again she fails.
Nowadays, in the captions to illustrations of her in books, the word
"Woman" is sometimes substituted for "Venus," a switch that has
contributed, together with the current growing sensitivity to the
visual representation of women, to a shift in how she is perceived.
One effect of this name change is to remove her from immediate
identification as a goddess and to think of her in more mundane,
human terms. This demystification allows us to approach the figure
more on its own terms and, without the encumbering preconceptions
provoked by a name, gives us a better chance of interpreting its
The sculpture shows a woman with a large stomach that overhangs but
does not hide her pubic area. A roll of fat extends around her
middle, joining with large but rather flat buttocks. She is not, as
Luce Passemard has pointed out, steatopygous (that is, possessing
protruding buttocks) [see BIBLIOGRAPHY]. Piette had been the first
to use the term steatopygous to describe the "Venus" figurines,
regarding it as a racial feature that he related to the appearance
of women in African tribes such as the Bushmen, Pygmies and
Hottentots (KhoiKhoi) [see BIBLIOGRAPHY]. The implication that
Aurignacian people may have been African in appearance influenced
Her thighs are also large and pressed together down to the knees.
Her forearms, however, are thin, and are shown draped over and
holding, with cursorily indicated fingers, the upper part of her
large breasts. Small markings on her wrists seem to indicate the
presence of bracelets. Her breasts are full and appear soft, but
they are not sagging and pendulous. The nipples are not indicated.
Her genital area would appear to have been deliberately emphasized
with the labia of the vulva carefully detailed and made clearly
visible, perhaps unnaturally so, and as if she had no pubic hair.
This, combined with her large breasts and the roundness of her
stomach, suggests that the "subject" of the sculpture is female
procreativity and nurture and the piece has long been identified as
some sort of fertility idol.
A characteristic of all the Paleolithic "Venus" figurines exhibited
by the Willendorf statuette is the lack of a face, which for some,
arguing that the face is a key feature in human identity, means that
she is to be regarded as an anonymous sexual object rather than a
person; it is her physical body and what it represents that is
From the front, the place where her face should be seems to be
largely concealed by what are generally described as rows of plaited
hair wrapped around her head. Close examination, however, reveals
that the rows are not one continuous spiral but are, in fact,
composed in seven concentric horizontal bands that encircle the
head, with two more half-bands below at the back of her neck. The
topmost circle has the form of a rosette. The bands vary in width
from front to back to sides, and also vary in size from each other.
Cut across the groove separating each band at regular,
closely-spaced intervals is a series of more or less lozenge-shaped
deep vertical notches, some wide, others narrow, that extend equally
into the band above and into the band below. These notches alternate
between bands to produce the effect of braided or plaited hair. That
it is intended to be understood as braided hair seems clear,
although it has been suggested recently that the figure is in fact
wearing a fiber-based woven hat or cap [see BIBLIOGRAPHY].
When seen in profile, the impression is that the figure is looking
down with her chin sunk to her chest, and her hair looks more like
hair; longer at back and falling and gathering like real hair might
on her upper back. Some find it significant that the number of full
circles is seven; many thousands of years later seven was regarded
as a magic number.
Such elaborate treatment of hair is extremely rare in Paleolithic
figurines, and the considerable attention paid to it by the sculptor
must mean it had some significance. In later cultures, hair has been
considered a source of strength, and as the seat of the soul.
Hair also has a long history as a source of erotic attraction that
lies, perhaps surprisingly, not so much in its color, style, or
length, but in its odor. The erotic attraction of the odor of hair
is obviously rooted in the sense of smell, which plays a
considerable role in sexual relations. Though greatly diminished in
the modern world, smell was paramount in establishing an erotic
rapport with a mate, as it still is among animals. In this context,
the hair of the woman or goddess represented in the "Venus" of
Willendorf figurine may have been regarded as erotically charged as
her breasts and pubic area.
Another characteristic of Paleolithic "Venus" figurines is the lack
of feet. In the archaeological report of her finding, the Willendorf
statuette is described as perfectly preserved in all its parts, so
it appears she never had feet.
It has been suggested that possibly the intention was to curtail the
figurine's power to leave wherever she had been placed.
A more common explanation is that because the statuette served as a
fertility idol, the sculptor included only those parts of the female
body needed for the conception and nurture of children. Even if she
had feet, though, it seems unlikely that she was meant to stand up.
This is even more true of the other Paleolithic figurines.
Nor it seems was she ever intended to lie in a supine position. In
fact, her most satisfactory, and most satisfying, position is being
held in the palm of the hand. When seen under these conditions, she
is utterly transformed as a piece of sculpture. As fingers are
imagined gripping her rounded adipose masses, she becomes a
remarkably sensuous object, her flesh seemingly soft and yielding to
What her identity and purpose may have been, why and for what reason
she was carved, becomes an even more pressing question. If we
dismiss all associations with goddesses and fertility figures, and
assume an objective response to what we see, she might be identified
as simply a Stone-Age doll for a child.
But this strikes us as unsatisfactory, not the least because of the
very high degree of artistic ability exhibited in the sculpting of
her forms. Compared with the other Paleolithic figurines in this
group, the "Venus" of Willendorf is a remarkably realistic
representation of a fat woman.
WOMEN IN THE STONE AGE
And she does appear to be fat rather than pregnant; a condition, it
has been suggested, due to eating large quantities of fat and
marrow, and a sedentary life.
Whatever it was she was eating that caused her to become so fat, the
suggestion that she must have led a life of relative leisure in
order to gain so much weight offers a clue to her status. The
question is: Is this what women in the Stone Age looked like? Or did
they look more like Raquel Welch in the 1960s movie "One Million
If what the archaeologists tell us is true, that Stone Age societies
survived through hunting and gathering, the chances are the women
looked more like Ms. Welch than Ms. Willendorf whose obesity would
have greatly impaired her ability to move around foraging and
The chances are, a Stone Age woman, much like the women in
hunter-gatherer tribes today (such as the !Kung of the Kalahari
Desert in South Africa), would not have had the opportunity to get
that fat, unless, of course, she had some special status. She
evidently did not need to gather, or hunt, but must have been
catered to and had her needs met by others.
Significantly, none of the few Paleolithic male figures in sculpture
or in engraved images is shown corpulent. If the woman of Willendorf
was a special female, who might she have been?
The life-like treatment of both the overall form of a fat woman and
such details as the figure's knees and the dimples where the upper
arm meets the chest, has caused at least one writer to suggest that
a real women served as the sculptor's model.
If this were in fact the case, that the "Venus" of Willendorf is not
an idol or a goddess but an actual woman, then she was clearly a
woman whose specialness is indicated by her obesity and also by the
fact that someone, a man or a woman, went to great pains to produce
a likeness of her. But the likeness, if such it is, is noticed only
in the torso and perhaps in her hairstyle; otherwise she has no
face, unnaturally thin arms, and no feet.
The fact that numerous examples of this type of female figure, all
generally exhibiting the same essential characteristics - large
stomachs and breasts, featureless faces, miniscule or missing feet -
have been found over a broad geographical area ranging from France
to Siberia, suggests that some system of shared understanding and
perception of a particular type of woman existed during the
Images of women, mostly figurines of the same type as the "Venus" of
Willendorf, all dating to the Paleolithic period, far outnumber
images of men. This has lead to speculation about the place of women
in Stone Age society.
Some have argued that these female figures denote the existence
during this period of a prominent female deity identified usually as
the Earth Mother or the Mother Goddess. On the basis of this
assumption, it has been suggested that, unlike today, women played a
considerably more important, if not dominant, role in Paleolithic
society; that possibly a matriarchy existed and women ruled.
The "Venus" of Willendorf may be a representation at once of the
Mother Goddess and a special living woman; one represented in the
form or guise of the other, although which came first is impossible
to know. Lacking written documentation, such claims are difficult to
support or refute.
EARTH MOTHER - MOTHER GODDESS
The concept of an Earth Mother or Mother Goddess or Great Goddess
derives primarily from the Greeks. In the Theogony, written in the
early 7th century BCE, the poet Hesiod named the "deep-breasted"
Earth Gaea, "a firm seat of all things for ever," who, after
emerging out of Chaos, brought forth "starry Ouranus" (the sky),
Mountains, the sea, and, after having lain with Ouranus, a number of
Plato (c. 427-347 BCE) in the Timaeus (40e) calls her Ge. According
to Pausanias in his Description of Greece (2nd century CE), there
was an altar and sanctuary dedicated to Gaia (the Gaeum) at Olympia
(V.14.10), and another, known as the Gaeus, near Aegae in Achaia
(VII.25.13). There was also a sanctuary of Earth the Nursing-Mother
near the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens (I.22.3).
The Romans worshipped her as Tellus, or Terra Mater, whom Varro
(116-27 BCE) called "the Great Mother."
In De rerum natura, the Latin poet Lucretius (died c. 55 BCE) calls
the earth Tellus and refers several times to her as Mother Earth or
the Great Mother, stating that "she alone is called Great Mother of
the gods [Magna deum Mater], and Mother of the wild beasts, and
maker of our bodies" (II.597-599).
The cult of the Great Mother [Magna Mater], later identified with
the mother-goddess Cybele (and by the Greeks as Rhea), was
established in Rome by the 3rd century BCE. The Greek satirist
Lucian (120-c.190 CE) mentions the "Great Mother" in his dialogue
A measure of her prominence in the pagan world is the space St.
Augustine (354-430 CE) devotes to attacking her worship in The City
of God Against the Pagans (VII, 24).
Largely suppressed during the Christian period, she emerges again in
the 18th century when references are made to the female Earth as
Interest in the Earth Mother and the Great Mother increased
significantly in the 19th century. Besides the classical sources
attesting to her worship, the 19th century became aware of the many
contemporary tribal peoples who worshipped the Earth as a female
In 1861, in the first volume of his book Das Mutterrecht ['The
Mother Right'] [see BIBLIOGRAPHY] the Swiss anthropologist Johann
Jacob Bachofen (1815-1887) argued that the matriarchate or
gynecocracy found among tribal peoples, where authority in both the
family and the tribe was in the hands of the women, was to be
associated with the worship of a supreme female earth deity.
When these ideas became meshed with Charles Darwin's theory of
evolution, laid out in 1859 in his On the Origin of Species, there
emerged the view that human evolution must have passed through an
earlier matriarchal stage.
Though controversial, this view posed no serious threat to
patriarchal order. Indeed, in the context of arguments developed by
the social Darwinists in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, it
nicely demonstrated the superiority and evolutionary "fitness" of
patriarchy over matriarchy. The fact that matriarchy was to be found
in the contemporary world only among "primitive" tribal peoples only
served to substantiate this claim.
It was against this background of ideas that archaeologists working
at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century
saw the newly discovered Paleolithic "Venus" figurines, and which
permitted an interpretation of them as representations of the Mother
Despite the lack of evidence, beyond the appearance of the figurines
themselves, ancient Greek cosmogonies, and the spurious connection
with much later tribal practices, numerous scholars have nonetheless
felt free to extend the idea of an Earth Goddess or Mother Goddess
into the prehistoric past and to claim that Stone-Age peoples had
believed in her as a universal deity.
Other scholars, however, have rejected these ideas as a basis for
interpretation and have pointed out, for example, the lack of
obvious signs of divinity in the figurines. But, again, lacking
written documentation these claims either way are difficult to
support or refute.
Although the paradigm of the "Venus" of Willendorf as Mother Goddess
persists, in recent years the figurine has also been interpreted as
possibly functioning in a more gynaecological context, perhaps
serving as a charm or amulet of some kind for women in connection
At the time of its discovery, the statuette showed traces of red
ochre pigment, which has been thought to symbolize, or serve as a
surrogate of, the menstrual blood of women as a life-giving agent,
as is the case in later traditions.
The emphasis given to the "Venus" of Willendorf's vulva and the
possibility that the red ochre served as a blood substitute suggest
that the figurine may have served some purpose in connection with
If the "Venus" of Willendorf was made to function within this sort
of context, it would place the figurine emphatically within the
sphere of the female. This would increase the possibility that it
was carved not by a man, but by a woman.
1. Johann Jacob Bachofen
Das Mutterrecht. Eine untersuchung uber die gynaikokratie der alten
welt nach ihrer religiosen und rechtlichen natur. vol. I (Stuttgart:
Krais & Hoffmann, 1861; reprint Basel: B. Schwabe, 1948).
2. Anne Baring and Jules Cashford
The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image (London: Penguin,
1993; first published by Viking, 1991).
3. Kenneth Clark
The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. The A. W. Mellon Mellon Lectures in
the Fine Arts, 1953. The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956).
4. Claudine Cohen
La Femme des origines: Images de la femme dans la préhistoire
occidentale (Paris: Hescher, 2003).
5. Elisabeth Saccasyn Della Santa Les Figures Humaines du
Paléolithique Supérieur Eurasiatique (Antwerp: De Sikkel, 1947).
6. Henri Delporte
L'Image de la Femme dans l'Art Préhistorique (Paris: Picard, 1993).
7. Marcia-Anne Dobres
"Venus Figurines," in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Edited by
Brian M. Fagan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 740-741.
8. Jean-Pierre Duhard
"Upper Palaeolithic Figures as a Reflection of Human Morphology and
Social Organization," Antiquity 67 (1993), 83-90.
9. Jean-Pierre Duhard
Réalisme de l'image féminine paléolithique (Paris: Centre national
de la recherche scientifique, 1993).
10. Jean-Pierre Duhard
Réalisme de l'image masculine paléolithique (Grenoble: J. Millon,
11. Franz Eppel
"Der Herkunft der Venus I von Willendorf," Archaeologia Austriaca 5
12. Franz Eppel
"Les objets d'art paléolithique en Autriche" Préhistoire Ariègeiose
(Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique de l'Ariège) 27 (1972), 73-81.
13. Margaret Ehrenberg
Women in Prehistory (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989).
14. Siegfried Giedion
The Eternal Present: The Beginnings of Art. The A. W. Mellon
Lectures in the Fine Arts, 1957. The National Gallery of Art,
Washington D.C. (London: Oxford University Press, 1962).
15. Marija Gimbutas
"The "Monstrous Venus" of Prehistory or Goddess Creatrix,"
Comparative Civilizations Review 10 (1981), 1-26.
16. Paolo Graziosi
Palaeolithic Art (New York: McGraw Hill, 1960).
17. Franz Hancar
"Zum Problem der Venusstatuen im eurasiatischen Jungpaläolithikum,"
Prähistorische Zeitschrift 30-31 (1939-1940), 85-156.
18. J. R. Harding
"Certain Upper Palaeolithic 'Venus' Statuettes Considered in
Relation to the Pathological Condition Known as Massive Hypertrophy
of the Breasts," Man 11 (1976), 271-272.
19. Christine Mitchell Havelock
The Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Successors: A Historical Review of
the Female Nude in Greek Art (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
20. Chris Knight
Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture (New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1991).
21. André Leroi-Gourhan
The Art of Prehistoric Man in Western Europe (Londom: Thames and
22. George Grant MacCurdy
"Some Recent Paleolithic Discoveries," American Anthropologist 10
23. George Grant MacCurdy
"Recent Discoveries Bearing on the Antiquity of Man in Europe,"
Smithsonian Report for 1909 (1911), 531-583.
24. LeRoy McDermott
"Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines," Current
Anthropology 37 (1996), 227-275.
25. Alexander Marshack
The Roots of Civilization (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972).
26. Karl J. Narr
"Weibliche symbol-plastik der älteren Steinzeit," Antaios 2 (1960),
27. Sarah Milledge Nelson
Gender in Archaeology: Analyzing Power and Prestige (Walnut Creek:
Altamira Press, 1997).
28. Marcel Otte
"Revision de la sequence du Paleolithique Superieur de Willendorf (Autriche),"
Bulletin de l'Istitut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique 60
29. Luce Passemard
Les Statuettes Féminines Paléolithiques dites Vénus Stéatopyges (Nîmes:
30. John E. Pfeiffer
The Creative Explosion: An Inquiry into the Origins of Art and
Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1982).
31. Édouard Piette
"La station de Brassempouy et les statuettes humaines de la période
glyptique," L'Anthropologie 6 (1895),129-151.
32. Édouard Piette
L'art pendant l'age du renne (Paris: Masson, 1907).
33. Patricia C. Rice
"Prehistoric Venuses: Symbols of Motherhood or Womanhood?" Journal
of Anthropological Research 37 (1982), 402-414.
34. Pamela Russell
"The Palaeolithic Mother-Goddess: Fact or Fiction?" in Reader in
Gender Archaeology. Edited by Kelley Hays-Gilpin and David S.
Whitley (London: Routledge, 1998), 261-268.
35. N. K. Sandars
Prehistoric At in Europe (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968).
36. Olga Soffer, J. M. Adovasio, D. C. Hyland
"The "Venus" Figurines: Textiles, Basketry, Gender, and Status in
the Upper Paleolithic," Current Anthropology 41 (2000), 511-537.
37. Olga Soffer, J. M. Adovasio, D. C. Hyland
"The Well-Dressed "Venus": Women's Wear ca. 27,000 PB," Archaeology,
Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia 1 (2000), 37-47.
38. Andrew Stewart
Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997).
39. Josef Szombathy
"Die Aurignacienschichten in Löss von Willendorf,"
Korrespondenzblatt der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Anthropologie,
Ethnologie, und Urgeschichte, XL (1909), 85-88.
40. Peter J. Ucko
"The Interpretation of Prehistoric Anthropomorphic Figurines,"
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and
Ireland 92 (1962); 38-54.
41. Peter J. Ucko
Anthropomorphic Figurines of Predynastic Egypt and Neolithic Crete
with Comparative Material from the Prehistoric Near East and
Mainland Greece (London: Andrew Szmidla, 1968).
42. Ernst E. Wrescher
"Red Ochre and Human Evolution: A Case for Discussion," Current
Anthropology 21 (1980), 631-44.