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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:20

Video transcript

people love definitive answers we really want to have a clear understanding of everything we see our historians especially so but people also love to make things we love to make art and one of the oldest works of art in the world yet found is a small female figurine that sometimes simply called female nude but still universally known as the Venus of Willendorf a name that makes no sense whatsoever but really speaks to the lens that our culture looks through she acquired the name Venus when she was found in 1908 in a village in Austria called Villon Dorf she's only about eleven centimeters high and she dates from about 25,000 years ago so she's really old and in the museum in Vienna where we're looking at her in the Natural History Museum they've traded her in darkness in the glass case illuminated from above the outside looks like a Greek temple and on it it says Venus of Willendorf and in fact in the temple there's a little button because remember this is a Science Museum lots of kids and kids love to push buttons and when they do the white light on the figurine turns red and a little flute music starts and of course we have no idea if these people listen to music what that music would have been it's really an attempt to fill in all the gaps we know almost nothing about her we don't know why she was made who made her what we have is the figure and virtually no context it is in some ways an anthropological object rather than an art object by giving her the name of an ancient Greek goddess the goddess of love Venus we were assigning meaning to her a meaning of her being a this figure and somehow associated with fertility now we have no reason believe any of that is true I suppose we do have a little bit more context and that is this is only one of quite a number of female figures that have been found from this era this is during the last ice age and at some of the first figural sculpture that we've seen what's interesting is that almost all of the sculptures that have been found have been female figures we should say all the figures that have been found so far are female figures and they're nude but they're of different shapes some exaggerate the breasts and buttocks but others are thin but maybe in 10 years or 100 years our historians and archaeologists will find male figures so all of this is guesswork all we've got to look at is the figure itself let's take a close look she has no feet and very thin arms which he rests high up on her breasts and she has no facial features that's consistent with almost all the figures from this period that have been found there is a careful rendering of the hair or perhaps a woven hat that's on her head some archaeologists have suggested that this might be a reed hat that she wears there's music in the red light that's right a small girl has just pushed the button the hands are articulated ever so slightly defining the fingers and archeologists who have looked at this carefully have suggested that perhaps the exaggeration of the stomach and of the breasts and of the head is her bulbous shapes throughout or partially result of the natural shape of the stone this is a limestone object she's symmetrical and it's clearly not something that was meant to stand up as you mentioned there were no feet but this is a figure that would have easily fill a hand and you have a sense that this is something that was meant to be held carried in a pocket perhaps something like that she does fit comfortably in a hand we know that she was originally painted over pain a kind of red paint beyond that it's really hard to save much more so we'll continue to be fascinated by it art historians will continue to try to find answers and in some ways I'm sure we'll always fall into the trap of reflecting our own interests and our own needs as we try to understand this object I'm not sure that we'll ever fully understand it or be able to retrieve its original meanings now