Venus of Willendorf.  Willendorf, Austria, ca. 25,000 BC.  Limestone.  Height: 4 3/4 inches.

        The most famous of Paleolithic figurines, this limestone carving measures less than five inches high.  The exaggerated breasts, navel, and vulva suggest that she may have been used as a fertility symbol and as an image of a mother goddess, representing the creative power of nature.  She still shows evidence of having been painted red.  The sculptor reveals a highly developed aesthetic sense in the wonderful curves, the hands resting on the breasts, and the repetition of tightly knit rows on her head.  These head designs have usually been viewed as an elaborate styling of hair; but recent research suggests that they might actually depict a woven headdress -- possible evidence of an early ‘‘string revolution’’ in the creation of fabrics.

Pablo Sato, Willendorf Vase No. 2, 2007