It has been suggested that she is a fertility figure, a good-luck totem, a mother goddess symbol — just like the so-called Stone Age Venuses and the Virgin Mary — or an aphrodisiac made by men for the appreciation of men. Further, one researcher hypothesized that it was made by a woman and that “what has been seen as evidence of obesity or adiposity is actually the foreshortening effect of self-inspection.”
She is Venus of Willendorf — also called Woman of Willendorf or Nude Woman —, Upper Paleolithic female figurine found in 1908 at Willendorf, Austria. She is perhaps the most familiar of some 40 small portable human figures — mostly female — that had been found intact or nearly so by the early 21st century in Europe and Eurasia.
Dated to circa 28,000–25,000 BCE, the statuette — made of oolitic limestone tinted with red ochre pigment — is easily transportable by hand. Both its size and the material from which it was made — not found in Willendorf — are indicators that the artifact was made elsewhere and carried to Willendorf. Its arms, though visible, are negligible and crudely depicted. Though a head is present, the only detail to be seen is a pattern representing a braid or cap, there are no facial features. Feet too are missing and were probably never part of the overall design.
The first-known statuette of this kind to be uncovered by archaeologists was the so-called Venus impudique, a headless, footless and handless figure discovered in 1864 at a site in southwestern France. While, the oldest known among all Venus figurines is the Venus of Hohle Fels, between 35,000 and 40,000 years old, made of mammoth ivory, and found in a German cave in 2008.
In december 2017, an italian woman named Laura Ghianda posted a photo of the ancient limestone nude on Facebook, only to have it removed for being deemed inappropriate. A more recent post on january 9 on the Wien Naturhistorisches Museum’s Facebook page calls attention to the censorship of Ghianda’s image. The post proclaims: “let the venus be naked!”
Meanwhile, as one of the most popular and beloved sculptures of all time, Venus of Willendorf has been celebrated in various ways, also becoming a strong symbol of female emancipation.