Cultural Artifact Analysis – The Venus of Willendorf
June 6, 2022
Artifact is anything created by humans and portrays a meaning for the people of that time. The artifact I have selected, “The Venus of Willendorf” by Josef Szombathy, is a fertility figure created in 25000 BP. The material of the artifact is Oolitic limestone, and it portrays the formation of a woman. It is one of the most famous and oldest surviving works of art. Josef Szombathy was an Austro-Hungarian archaeologist who discovered this work in the small village of Willendorf. When it was found, there were no trends in writing; thus, historians relied on the object to explain the history and the people of that time (Zygmont, 2015). Different people of different times perceived this object differently. But the one ordinary meaning associated with this artifact is fertility, reproduction, and childbearing. It is because of the anatomy of the artifact that it portrays the body of an overweight woman. The artist of the artifact focuses on particular parts to make it an illustration of a female-like; its pubic regions and breasts show she can nurse a child, and scholars of that time associated it with the woman’s role in childbearing (Zygmont, 2015).
Why did I choose it?
I have selected this artifact because of its associated perspectives with it. Every aspect of the artifact is used to undermine females and their presence. For example, during the artifact analysis, I read numerous sources, and one source states that the small foot size of the artifact shows that females are not meant to be free-standing. The artifact symbolizes the inferiority of women and standardizes male counterparts.
The artifact seems attractive because of its appearance and the history associated with it. I believe that we can learn much more from the sculpture. Such as, we can learn about fertility images and patriarchal beliefs of people of different times. What motivated me to choose this artifact was to clear my perspective towards it. And also, I want to clarify that the cultural artifact that portrays the body of a woman does not necessarily represent her minority status in society. I have evaluated numerous sources, and all of those undermine the artifact’s appearance by saying it portrays the reproductive role of the female.
I believe that female’s reproductive ability is her power, but historians and researchers think it is their weakness that undermines them from men. The purpose of selecting this artifact is to provide a positive perspective on that artifact because most evaluators come up with negative and discriminative attitudes towards the sculpture.
The selected artifact is classified as Gravettian or upper perigordian culture from the upper paleolithic period. It is an artifact from the final period of the stone age. It is one of the oldest stone sculptures and is in the permanent rock art collection of Vienna’s history museum. The artistic context of the sculpture defines it as a portrayal of an obese woman. The Venus of Willendorf is one of Austria’s three most famous stone figures. This is one of those art pieces that give rise to the development of stone and cave paintings (Comism, 2014).
Apart from the original context of the sculpture, everything we read about it is the meaning portrayed in the statue is the portrayal of men’s perception of women. This is men looking toward women. This is because we live in a male-dominated society, and they are male partners who undermine females because of their appearance and their role as reproductive machines and child-bearers (Comism, 2014). By looking at the sculpture and piece of art, we can analyze whether the anthropologists were male or female because a sculpture created by a male anthropologist would portray females as weak and inferior. But a female anthropologist consistently describes females as strong and conquerors. This is the difference I wanted to make by evaluating this artifact and explaining the image of women in a positive sense. The artist’s visual and oral techniques highlight the femineity of the sculpture. It portrayed the idea of feminist beliefs in the past when it was discovered, and evaluations of this art piece over time show how people perceived it based on their perceptions of gender and female identity.
Two cultural values portrayed in the selected artifact are beliefs and social roles. Through this artifact, the artist is trying to convey the gender beliefs of people from different periods. Gender beliefs are stereotypes, and for years, people’s beliefs toward females have been stereotyped and prejudiced. Gender beliefs are not different among societies, and for centuries, we can see these beliefs are the same. The second cultural value portrayed through this artifact is the social roles of each gender. The female portrayal through sculpture highlights the reproductive function of females and childbearing the role of females. These two roles are socially acceptable and imposed on females, and the artist highlights these values in his work.
The cultural values of the artist portrayed in this art piece are different from mine because I think females are as powerful as males. Their role is not limited to childbearing and reproduction, but they can compete with males in different fields. I believe that this is one primary contrasting cultural view that is different from the artist that I do not see women as weak as she is portrayed in this artifact.
Cultural Artifacts Shape our Perception
Cultural artifacts play a crucial role in shaping our perspectives towards different things and changing our beliefs about specific events. Like the artifact under analysis, it changes the female image and shapes people’s perception of female reproductive objects. The artifact shapes patriarchal beliefs because the image highlights the role of the female as a child-bearer (her breast). When I talk about my cultural perspective, it didn’t change, but my response toward the artifact has changed because I do not accept the negative image portrayed in the artifact. But I believe that cultural artifacts have the power to change the perspectives of the community who are closely associated with cultural beliefs and rely on these teachings.
References Comism, H. (2014, June 19). The Venus of Willendorf (25,000 BCE). Retrieved from ENCYCLOPEDIA OF STONE AGE ART: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/prehistoric/venus-of-willendorf.htm#:~:text=The%20Venus%20of%20Willendorf%20has,Natural%20History%20Museum%20in%20Vienna. Zygmont, D. B. (2015). Venus of Willendorf. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/prehistoric-art/paleolithic/paleolithic-objects/a/venus-of-willendorf#:~:text=The%20artifact%20known%20as%20the,famous%20s