Grimaldi Venuses

Venus of Polichinelle & others
Balzi Rossi Caves: 25,000 BC

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Venus of Grimaldi made of yellow steatite, also called the Venus of Menton
One of the Venuses of Grimaldi, it was recovered from the Barma Grande cave, on the Ligurian coast. It is known as the Venus of Menton or the yellow steatite statuette. Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen. (CC BY 4.0)

What are the Grimaldi Venuses?

The Grimaldi Venuses are a group of thirteen Italian venus figurines excavated from the Balzi Rossi network of rock shelters - also known as the Grimaldi Caves - on the coast of Liguria, close to the French Côte d'Azur.

They include the well known Venus of Polichinelle, which dates to the Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic.

This exceptional collection of prehistoric sculpture represents the largest assemblage of venus figurines in Western Europe, ever to be found in a single location.

Eight of the statuettes are now in the collection of Upper Paleolithic art at the Musee des Antiquites Nationales (MAN), in Saint Germain-en-Laye, France.

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Excavation & Discovery

The Grimaldi Caves consist of eight caves, one of which has collapsed. They include: the Grotte des Enfants, l'Abri Lorenzi, l'Abri Mochi, Grotte de Florestan, Grotta del Caviglione, Barma Grande, Grotte du Prince and Barma di Baousso da Torre (now collapsed).

Other less important shelters in the vicinity, include: Grotta dei Fanciulli, Grotta del Principe, Grotta Gerbai, Grotta Costantini, Riparo Mochi, Riparo Bombrini, and Grotta Voronov.

The first excavations were conducted by Émile Rivière between 1870 and 1875. He was followed, between 1883 and 1895, by Louis Alexandre Jullien an antiques dealer and amateur archaeologist from Marseilles, who discovered the mobiliary art that now bears the Grimaldi name.

At the turn of the 20th century, Prince Albert I of Monaco, was persuaded to finance additional excavations of the caves - then known as the Balzi Rossi caves. In due course, the cave complex was renamed the "Caves of Grimaldi" in his honour.

The excavations were performed by Léonce de Villeneuve (in 1895-1902) and Alberto Carlo Blanc (in 1938-9), and after the war by Guissepe Vicino, of l'Institut International d'Études Ligures, and Louis Barral of the Musée d'Anthropologie Préhistorique de Monaco.

Note: In 1929, another famous Italian figurine - the "Venus of Savignano" - was discovered near Modena. It was dated to 26,000 BC. (See: World's Oldest Art.)

A large quantity of fossils, stone tools and other artifacts was recovered from the caves, but it was Jullien who found the venuses.

They were discovered in only three locations: Barma Grande, Grotte du Prince, and also from a vineyard to the west of Barma Grande, by the name of le Jardin Abbo.

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The Grimaldi Figurines

The Grimaldi venuses unearthed by Jullien, include:

Jardin Abbo

Barma Grande

Grotte du Prince

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None of the Grimaldi statuettes could be directly dated, as they were not located in datable deposits.

However, using comparative analysis methods, paleontologists have dated them to the Gravettian culture, due to their close resemblance with the archetypal Gravettian venuses.

The Venus of Polichinelle and the Venus el Rombo are both dated to about 25,000 BC.

The remainder of the statuettes are dated to between 22,000 and 17,000 BC.

For more about the chronology of Stone Age sculpture, see Prehistoric art Timeline (from 540,000 BC).

Similar Prehistoric Statuettes

Similar items of paleolithic art from across Europe include, in chronological order:


(1) "Imagerie féminine du Paléolithique. L'apport des nouvelles statuettes de Grimaldi." Randall White, Michael S. Bisson. January 1998. Gallia Préhistoire 40(1):95-132.
(2) "Previously undescribed Figurines from the Grimaldi Caves." Bisson, M.; Bolduc P. (1994). Current Anthropology, 35 (4), S. 458–468.
(3) "La femme des origines. Images de la femme dans la préhistoire occidentale." Cohen C., 2003: Paris, Belin-Herscher, 2003.

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