Cave Art. The first work of art to be discussed in any survey of Western Art is the four inch tall sculpture of the Venus of Willendorf, c. 23,000 BC. Carved during the Paleolithic Era, it is a combination of disegno esterno and disegno interno. Anatomy? Bones, muscles, and naturalistic details are visible in the armpits, breasts, belly button, pelvic region, thighs, and knees. Biologically correct? Yes, in the area of fleshy softness. Proportion? The head is large compared to the shoulders; the arms are as skinny as sticks and unnaturally resting across the tops of the excessively large breasts. The stomach is large; is she pregnant? There are fleshy thighs, but no ankles or feet. Biologically correct? No, some parts are over emphasized while others are minimized or eliminated. Mass? Yes, the body is composed of overly defined hills and valleys to emphasize the rounded breasts, stomach, and thighs.


Sociological stereotype? The statue symbolizes healthy innocence. Those parts which the artist maximized are directly related to childbirth and the nursing of a child till weaning. Those parts which the artist minimized or eliminated (facial features, arms, feet) are not important in the process of impregnation, carrying a baby to term, or nursing the baby. The woman has been objectified (modified into a generic baby making machine) and fragmented (reduced to the applicable component parts). Now that we have conducted this analysis, the definition of the Geist is easy. Paleolithic society focused much of its attention onto the survival of the species, and a primary aspect of that is female fertility. Such an object was probably an amulet which insured that that clan’s females were healthy and fertile. Akin to a voodoo doll, if the artist makes the sculpture and invests it with supernatural powers, then s/he will feel power over that abstract force and bring blessings to the community.

Even though the Venus of Willendorf was excavated without any documents relative to the society in which the artist lived, this small sculpture, when fully analyzed, yields substantial information.