The Woman of Willendorf: Connecting to a Lineage of Birthing Bodies

Woman of Willendorf (28,000-20,000 BCE) 11.1 cm, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Woman of Willendorf (28,000-20,000 BCE) 11.1 cm, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Some of the earliest forms of sculpture known to humankind are found in a type of statuette created by the Gravettian culture, which existed between 28,000-20,000 BCE and was located most prominently in what is today central Europe.  These small statues are made of limestone and depict the female body in the full round.[1]  Archaeologists have in the past referred to these figurines as “Venus Figures,” considering the objects to have symbolized fertility for ancient peoples of the Old Stone Age.  The most famous of these statuettes is the “Woman of Willendorf” (also called the “Venus of Willendorf”).  Standing 4 1/8” tall, the Woman of Willendorf displays large breasts and hips and belly that are exaggerated in their voluptuousness.  Her vulva is also large and full.  With no facial features, she does not depict a particular woman but instead represents a symbol of fertility.[2]  

The round shapes of the Woman of Willendorf’s body remind contemporary viewers of the powerful capabilities inherent in the female body.  Pregnant women today can utilize the symbol of the statuette’s body by looking at it and realizing that they too are connected to the long lineage of women giving birth that has occurred over the course of tens of thousands of years.  As is represented in the symbolic figure of the Woman of Willendorf, the form of the female body is made for birthing babies.  Women have been involved in the activity of birth since the beginning of humankind.  This connection to the lineage of birthing women can aid pregnant women in relieving some of their own feelings of isolation or of being alone as they approach the birth of their own children.  They are reminded of the powerful capabilities inherent in their own bodies.

[1] Horst de la Croix, Diane Kirkpatrick and Richard G. Tansey, Art Through the Ages (ninth edition), San Diego, New York, Chicago, Austin, Washington DC, London, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1991, 36.

[2] Ibid.