Venus Through History – Rick Steves’ travel blog

As Europe begins to open up to travelers once again, the contemplation of cultural treasures awaits is more exciting than ever. For me, one of the greatest pleasures of traveling is personal encounters with great art and architecture – which I have collected in a book called Europe’s 100 best masterpieces. This is one of my favourites:

Beauty can take many forms. But since the beginnings of the human race, the most popular subject for artists has been the female body. Long before the end of the Ice Age, Europeans were making figurines of women.

The chubby Venus of Willendorf (circa 25,000 B.C.), was found in modern-day Austria placing her spindly arms on her wide breasts. This statue is only 4.4 inches tall, and is similar to many of today’s statues. Most of them are no bigger than a smartphone. They are carved from stone or bone, or from clay. They are common females, with no face or feet. The hips are wide, the breasts and butt are enlarged, with a prominent vaginal opening. This focus on women’s life-giving traits has led scientists to suggest that they are fertility symbols. Living at the mercy of the elements, the first Europeans to create these elements may have worshiped Mother Nature. Scientists called them “statues of Venus.”

During the long journey from the Archaic period to the Neolithic period, the statues of Stone Age women shed about 20,000 years of fat to become the so-called “Cycladic figures” (around 3000 BC). These ladies from the Greek islands are skinny. They are always naked, with stylized chests and folded arms. Due to their lack of distinguishing features, it is suggested that they may represent every woman. But no one knows the exact purpose: was she a fertility goddess, a funerary figure, a good luck charm, a spirit guide, a prehistoric Barbie doll, a caveman playboy builder. . . Or just art?

This “Venus” was just the beginning of a 25,000-year tradition of using women’s beauty—yes, you could say the embodiment of women—to express society’s deepest values.

The word “beauty” can apply to harmonious concepts in addition to physical beauty. During the days of Classical Greece and Rome, a statue of a perfectly proportioned person – such as Venus de Milo – embodied the harmony and geometric order they found in the divine universe.

In the Christian era, “Venus” became “Mary”. Just as Venus represented the earthly love of pagans, Christians would honor the Madonna as a symbol of divine love. Images of Mary greeted worshipers in the church, promising love and forgiveness. Because medieval art was somewhat primitive, artists used symbolism to communicate this. A vase of lilies might represent Mary’s chastity, and baby Jesus might be a symbol of his foretold death. By the Renaissance, artists could portray Mary with such human realism that she radiates her spirituality through her physical beauty.

And so he went, as each era created images of beautiful women to express abstract concepts. The Mona Lisa is not just a portrait of a businessman’s wife; It’s a visual message of a geometrically perfect world. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus embodies the Platonic ideal of seeking enlightenment. In modern times, secular Venus nicknamed “Marian” (in Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People) carried the torch of the French revolutionary spirit.

Throughout art history, artists have used beautiful women as a means of expressing deeper meanings. The women of art, whom you will see in Europe’s “100 Best Masterpieces” – whether in their roles as life givers, warriors, sensual foxes, models, icons of an era, or straightforward workers – have always been the “beauty” of humanity’s greatest ideals. .

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