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A Facebook-safe version of the Venus of Willendorf (illustration by the author for Hyperallergic)

An image of the Venus of Willendorf (ca 28,000–25,000 BCE), the iconic Stone Age sculpture of a female figure, is apparently too provocative to appear on a personal Facebook page. In late December 2017, an Italian woman named Laura Ghianda (who lists her occupation as “graffiti writer”) posted a photo of the ancient limestone nude on Facebook — only to have it removed for being deemed inappropriate, as the Art Newspaper and the AFP reported. Her attempts to appeal the decision were unsuccessful, though three images of the artwork she posted subsequently remain.

The Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, which houses the Venus of Willendorf, has brought the incident to the attention of a wider public and criticized Facebook’s reaction to the Paleolithic artifact. A January 9 post on the museum’s Facebook page, calling attention to the censorship of Ghianda’s image, proclaims: “Let the Venus be naked!”

The Venus of Willendorf (ca 28,000–25,000 BCE), limestone (photo courtesy and © the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien)

“There has never been a complaint by visitors concerning the nakedness of the figurine and we never heard of anybody who could have been offended by the look at this artifact,” the museum’s director general, Christian Koeberl, said in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “The perfection of the representation and harmonious style make the 29,500-year-old figure of the ‘Venus of Willendorf’ one of the most expressive works of art from the Paleolithic Age.”

Meanwhile, the Naturhistorisches Museum’s own Facebook posts, which also feature the Venus of Willendorf, have never run afoul of the site’s murky nudity policies. A spokesperson for the museum noted: “Our postings have never been deleted/censored by Facebook. During the last few days, for example, we published a post about our Valentine’s Day special with the Venus of Willendorf, animal sex, etc., and it stayed on Facebook.”

Though Facebook revised its policies in 2015 to allow “art that depicts nude figures,” images of artworks portraying nude figures are still taken down. Two years ago, for instance, the social network censored an image of Edvard Eriksen’s famous “Little Mermaid” statue in Copenhagen. Facebook is currently on trial in France for similar censorship of a 2011 post featuring Gustave Courbet’s “L’Origine du Monde” (1866). Though that work features a fairly detailed depiction of a nude woman’s crotch, the Venus of Willendorf is less literal and clearly stylizes the female figure.

The small sculpture, which measures just under four-and-a-half inches in height, was discovered near the Austrian town of Willendorf during a 1908 excavation conducted by Naturhistorisches Museum archaeologists. Analysis has shown that the limestone figure was previously coated in red ochre. Researchers believe that it was carved with flint tools more than 25,000 years ago, and consider it one of the most recognizable depictions of a nude female figure in human history.

Update, 3/2/2018, 11:45 am: In a comment to the AFP, a spokesperson for Facebook apologized for the censorship of the Venus of Willendorf, while apparently confusing the post in question with an advertisement.

“Our advertising policies do not allow nudity or implied nudity but we have an exception for statues. Therefore, the ad with this image should have been approved,” the spokesperson said. “We apologize for the error and have let the advertiser know we are approving their ad.”

Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy Sherman, and other divisive issues have...

11 replies on “Facebook Censored a Stone Age Nude Sculpture, Venus of Willendorf [UPDATED]”

  1. It seems to me, Facebook hires a slew of pimply faced, uneducated, illiterates, as Censors to monitor posts and arbitrarily decide what is offensive, and which is not. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that they didn’t censor the post from appearing on the museum’s page, but did so on the woman’s personal page because it is obvious those buffoons have no idea what is an historical piece of art. They wouldn’t object to the museum and expose their ignorance, yet figure they’d bully the individual. Facebook is guilty of permitting many expressions of nudity which contravene their own guidelines – as long as it’s women. On numerous modeling pages, they allow countless images of women’s bare buttocks, side boob shots, even women in sheer clothing nude beneath. Yet a professionally crafted artistic image of a nude male body (no genitalia showing), in a seated pose, and completely in shadow is removed! Facebook’s double standard, and seemingly whimsical decision making on what constitutes an infraction of their own guidelines indicates a workforce of un-monitored peons is making the decisions based upon their own individual vagaries, and not those of society, public opinion, or Facebook itself. Bloody ridiculous horse poop!

  2. Ignorance is a common feature of humans whose instincts remain in the caves. The paradox is that this ignorance is curtailing the most sacred of humanity: “art” in all its forms of expression. Inadmissible is that the powerful holders of sieve and censorship – which is presumed to have also culture – prevent a work from being exposed as it was created.

  3. An image of this beautiful sculpture is censored, while images of Ashley Graham’s thighs and buttocks are posted everywhere. go figure.

  4. – FB is becoming quite boring, thatbyd, in my opinion – last night I wrote in “what are u thinking” a sincere congrats to the young students who were traumatized in Florida – my statement was to give them encouragement to carry on against the NRA and to keep up their awareness and of the shooting crisis in our country – well, my post was deleted in less than a blink – so I deleted my account – I’m bored with FB – yes call it two shoes two face censorship – CH

  5. Interesting aspect of all these Facebook censorships is a factor everybody uses to forget: the human factor. Artworks are still detected as “nude” or “inacceptable” for FB guidelines not by AI bots or image recognizing systems. These are people, who mark the images as “inappropriate”. So we have to look for the root of problem not in the evil Facebook villains, but deep in our society, which is already offended by basic artworks. That’s the problem. Our society achieved the unbelievable level of hypocrisy. We are evil, not the Facebook.

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