Venus of Savignano
Characteristics, Discovery, Dating of Prehistoric Italian Figurine.

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Venus of Savignano (24,000 BCE)
Oldest stone sculpture in Italy.

Venus of Savignano (24,000 BCE)


Discovery and Dating
Analogous Italian Venus Figurines
Other Venus Statuettes
Related Articles


The Italian figurine known as the "Savignano Venus" is a prehistoric sculpture which has been assigned to the era of Gravettian art (25,000-20,000 BCE). Discovered in 1925, it is taller than most other Venus Figurines (it stands 22 centimetres in height), and is carved out of serpentine (steatite). There is some disagreement about its age. On the basis of a stylistic comparison with other known venuses - in particular the steatite Venus of Polichinelle (also known as the Grimaldi Venus), as well as the French Venus of Monpazier (25,000 BCE) - archeologists date it to the Late period of Paleolithic art, but at least one scholar considers it to be a work of Neolithic art (c.6,000-2,000 BCE). The Savignano Venus is part of the collection of prehistoric art at the Pigorini Museum (Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico L. Pigorini) in Rome. Together with the Fumane Cave Paintings from near Verona (35,000 BCE), the Venus of Polichinelle from Balzi Rossi (c.25,000 BCE), and the Addaura Cave Engravings from Monte Pellegrino (11,000 BCE), the Savignano Venus ranks among the earliest art in Italy.

For the chronology of Stone Age sculpture and other artworks, please see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE).

Discovery and Dating

The figurine was found in 1925 by Mr. Olindo Zambelli in a place called "Pra Martin" at Savignano sul Punaro, near Modena. Buried 4-feet deep in clay soil, it was unearthed during building works at a stable. It was handed over to Professor Giuseppe Graziosi who donated it to the Pigorini Museum in Rome. When found, there were no other traces of any ancient cave art or any artifacts to suggest that the site dated back to the Stone Age. Direct dating was therefore impossible, hence the need for the stylistic analysis and comparison with other figurines of the Gravettian culture.


The Venus of Savignano - measuring 225 millimeters in height, 48 millimeters in width, 52 millimeters in depth and weighing more than half a kilo - was sculpted from a block of yellow-greenish serpentine stone. Like all prehistoric venus figures, it depicts an obese female nude, with emphasized female features and genitalia. The head resembles a conical shaped pyramid; there are no shoulders, while the arms are only suggested and without hands. The large bust is tilted backwards, the belly bulges, as do the buttocks. Voluminous thighs end in short tapering legs without feet. A well-preserved, polished figurine, some traces of red ochre can be seen on the head, right arm and lower butt.

Analogous Italian Venus Figurines

In an important excavation of Stone Age art, Italian venus figurines dating to the Gravettian and Epigravettian period were discovered in the Caves of Grimaldi in Liguria, between 1883 and 1895, by Louis Alexandre Jullien, an antiques dealer from Marseilles. Like the Venus of Savignano, none of these statuettes could be directly dated as they were not found with other rock art or amidst datable deposits. However, scholars have dated them to the Upper Paleolithic period because of their strong analogies with the archetypal Venus of the European Gravettian. The Venus of Savignano most resembles The Venus el Rombo and The Venus of Polichinelle, both of which are dated to about 25,000 BCE.

For the world's oldest sculpture, see: Oldest Stone Age Art.

The fifteen Italian venuses found in the Ligurian caves include the following, among others:

• The Venus of Polichinelle (Pulchinella) (green steatite)
• The Double Venus (greenish-yellow serpentine)
• The Red Ochre Venus (ivory)
• The Undescribed Venus (green soapstone)
• The Nun Venus (the flattened figure) (dark-green chlorite)
• The Venus of Menton (yellow steatite)
• The Venus el Rombo (the rhomboid or lozenge shaped venus) (steatite)
• The Woman with the Perforated Neck (green steatite)
• The Two-Headed Woman (pale green-yellow serpentine)
• The Brown Ivory Figurine (Abrachiale)
• The Bust (dark-green chlorite)
• The Hermaphrodite Venus (green soapstone)
• The Woman with Goitre (ivory)

A treasure trove of mobiliary art, these statuettes comprise the largest series of venus figurines in Western Europe ever to be discovered in one place. Half are now in the collection of the Musee des Antiquites Nationales (MAN) in Saint Germain-en-Laye, France.

Other Venus Statuettes

Here is a short selection of the most famous venus carvings from the Aurignacian and Gravettian periods of the Upper Paleolithic.

- Venus of Hohle Fels (ivory) (38,000-33,000 BCE) Germany.
- Venus of Galgenberg (serpentine) (30,000 BCE) Austria.
- Venus of Dolni Vestonice (baked clay) (26,000 BCE) Czech Republic.
- Venus of Monpazier (limonite) (25,000 BCE) France.
- Venus of Willendorf (limestone) (25,000 BCE) Austria.
- Venus of Moravany (ivory) (24,000 BCE) Slovakia.
- Venus of Laussel (limestone) (23,000 BCE) France.
- Venus of Brassempouy (ivory) (23,000 BCE) France.
- Venus of Lespugue (ivory) (23,000 BCE) France.
- Venus of Kostenky (ivory) (22,000 BCE) Russia.
- Venus of Gagarino (volcanic rock) (20,000 BCE) Russia.
- Venuses of Avdeevo (mammoth ivory) (c.20,000 BCE) Russia
- Mal'ta Venuses (ivory, reindeer antler) (20,000 BCE) Russia.
- Zaraysk Venuses (ivory) (20,000 BCE) Russia.

For carvings from the Middle and Late Magdalenian period, see the Russian Venus of Eliseevichi (14,000 BCE), the German Venus of Engen (13,000 BCE) and the Venus of Monruz-Neuchatel (c.10,000 BCE), the last of the Upper Paleolithic figurines.

Related Articles

• For more about rock carving, see: Rock Engravings.

• For more about European parietal art, see: Cave Painting.


• For more information about prehistoric art in Italy, see: Homepage.

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