Friday, July 31, 2009

Marilyn Willendorf

Walhydra recently nicknamed one of her characters "Venus of Willendorf" and included an image of the prehistorical sculpture.

Walhydra wrote:

[Dr. Bob's] daughter-in-law had that wonderful Venus of Willendorf shape. It was a shape which represented for Walhydra both the most comfortable and the most awesome form of Goddess power.
Just recently, Walhydra stumbled upon the following image by Ben Heine, which she couldn't resist sharing:
Marilyn Willendorf, by Ben Heine


Anonymous said...

I find the image perplexing...all boob no brain. No feet to stride with, no arms to fend with, minimal modesty. Not too appealing, not too comforting - at least to me...

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Dear Anonymous: according to some interpretations of the image, the arms are over the breasts. (It does look a little odd to see them under the straps of the dress here, but one suspects Marilyn is no fashion victim, and will choose to wear her clothing as she wishes!)

As for the feet, Marilyn may not have them for the same reason that neolithic jugs and cookware, and the familiar shape of an amphora of wine or oil, is pointed at the bottom: in a house with a dirt floor, such a bottom allows for resting something upright in the dirt. Picture the original Marilyn as she was then: less than 5" high.

Far from the lack of feet meaning she could not travel, it meant that she was a figure (goddess or no--scholars differ) you could slip in your pocket, carry anywhere, and set up upright to watch over the goings on when you arrived at your destination.

(Then, too, the limestone of the original wasn't too friendly to protruding details in the carving. Feet would have broken off and gotten lost--rather like Barbie doll shoes do today.)

Bright Crow said...

Dear Anonymous,

I appreciate your perplexity, but let me add to what Dear Cat wrote.

First, here's what artist Ben Heine himself quoted from "Woman from Willendorf," by Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe:

"A characteristic of all the Paleolithic 'Venus' 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....

"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....

"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....

"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…

"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 the touch."

[continued in next comment]

Bright Crow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bright Crow said...

Apologies for the extended quotation, but I'm using Whitcombe's words to underscore my own sense of this figure.

This little statuette is Woman as valued, honored and worshipped by pre-patriarchal humankind. Woman as the source of life, in all her fecundity.

Her sexual features may or may not be exaggerated versions of actual women of the era in which she was carved, but the point is honoring of Woman’s sexuality—for eros and for reproduction and for wonder.

Relevant to this, I had a sharp awakening a few days ago here at this little African-American neighborhood library branch where I am substituting.

My being gay means that I do not experience the visceral erotic response to woman that heterosexual men do. That, in turn, means I miss a great deal of crucial information about the real presence and power of Woman.

In addition, as a product of a modern, white male-focused culture, one which has an obsession with bosomy yet slender women as the “ideal of female beauty,” I am more-or-less programmed to scorn women whom that culture calls “over-weight.”

Finally, as a white American male, and despite my conscious embrace of a non-racist attitude toward folk of the African Diaspora, I carry—to my dismay—a not-so-subliminal scorn for the “overt sexuality and public eroticism” of some Black folks.

Not a pretty picture of me, but an honest one (I hope).

All of which leads me back to my Goddess zap of a few days ago.

We have one regular Black customer who is built like a somewhat less buxom Venus of Willendorf—and she always wears extremely short, skin-tight clothing.

I used to see her at Main, and now I see her at this little neighborhood branch.

For the years that I’ve been seeing her off and on, I acknowledge that I have been projecting my gay man’s ignorance and my white male bigoted scorn onto her, as someone who is…the polite, middle-class euphemism is “inappropriate.”

Well, yesterday she spent a fair amount of time here at the branch, and I found myself watching her with fascination.

She finally left, walking out into the sunlight. As she passed our front window, she glanced back into the library (almost as if she knew I had been watching her), and….



I understood viscerally that there was NOTHING about her which I had any right…or desire…to judge negatively.

And so it is.

Bl├Ęssed Be,
Michael Bright Crow

Anonymous said...

thank you Caucasian for admitting and recognizing you had the blessing of seeing a goddess :)
i see you study well