[music playing] dr. steven zucker: peoplelove definitive answers. we really want to have a clearunderstanding of everything we see, art historiansespecially so. but people alsolove to make things. we love to make art. and one of the oldestworks of art in the world yet found, is a smallfemale figurine that's sometimes simplycalled female nude,
but is still universally knownas the venus of willendorf, a name that makesno sense whatsoever, but really speaks to the lensthat our culture looks through. dr. beth harris: sheacquired the name venus when she was found in 1908, ina village in austria, called willendorf. she's only about 11centimeters high, and she dates fromabout 25,000 years ago. so she's really old.
and, in the museum in viennawhere we we're looking at her, in the natural historymuseum, they've shrouded her indarkness, in a glass case, illuminated from above. the outside lookslike a great temple, and on it, it says"venus of willendorf." dr. steven zucker: andin fact, in the temple, there's a little buttonbecause, remember, this is a science museum.
lots of kids, and kids love topush buttons, and when they do, the white light on thefigurine turns red, and a little flute music starts. now of course we have no idea ifthese people listened to music, what that music would've been. it's really an attemptto fill in all the gaps. we know almostnothing about her. we don't know why shewas made, who made her. what we have is the figure,and virtually no context.
it is in some ways ananthropological object, rather than an art object. dr. beth harris: bygiving her the name of an ancient greek goddess,the goddess of love venus, we were assigningmeaning to her. a meaning of her beinga goddess figure, and somehow associatedwith fertility. dr. steven zucker:now, we have no reason to believe any of that is true.
i suppose we do have alittle bit more context, and that is, this is onlyone of quite a number of female figures that havebeen found from this era. this is during thelast ice age, and it's some of the first figuralsculpture that we've seen. what's interesting is thatalmost all the sculptures that have been found havebeen female figures. dr. beth harris: we shouldsay all the figures that have been found so farare female figures,
and they're nude. but they're of different shapes. some exaggerate thebreasts and buttocks. but others are thin. but maybe in 10years, or 100 years, art historiansand archaeologists will find male figures. dr. steven zucker: so,all of this is guesswork. all we've got to lookat is the figure itself.
let's take a close look. dr. beth harris: she hasno feet, and very thin arms, which she restshigh up on her breasts. and she has no facial features. dr. steven zucker: that'sconsistent with almost all the figures from thisperiod that have been found. there is a careful renderingof the hair, or perhaps a woven hat that's on her head. some archaeologistshave suggested
that this might be areed hat that she wears. dr. beth harris: oh. there's the musicand the red light. dr. steven zucker: that'sright, a small girl has just pushed the button. the hands are articulatedever so slightly, defining the fingers. and archaeologists who havelooked at this carefully have suggested that perhaps theexaggeration of the stomach,
and of the breasts, and ofthe head-- those are bulbous shapes throughout--are partially a result of naturalshape of the stone. this is a limestone object. she's symmetrical,and it's clearly not something thatwas meant to stand up. as you mentioned,there were no feet. but this is a figure thatwould easily fill a hand, and you have thesense that this is
something that wasmeant to be held. dr. beth harris: carriedin a pocket, perhaps. something like that. she does fitcomfortably in a hand. we know that she wasoriginally painted with ochre paint, akind of red paint. beyond that, it's reallyhard to say much more. dr. steven zucker:so, we'll continue to be fascinated by it.
art historians will continueto try to find answers. and in some ways,i'm sure we'll always fall into the trap ofreflecting our own interests, and our own needs, as we tryto understand this object. i'm not sure that we'll everfully understand it or be able to retrieve itsoriginal meanings. dr. beth harris: nope.