LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Discovered more than 200 years ago on the Greek island of Milos, it was once believed that the statue's subject was either the ancient goddesses of Venus or Aphrodite.
Previous speculations had the goddess of beauty holding a mirror, a spear or an apple. A new theory of one U.S. writer says that Aphrodite could have been depicted spinning thread.
A San Francisco-based designer has recreated the sculpture as a spinner, which was a pursuit popular with idle prostitutes in ancient Greece.
Elizabeth Wayland Barber suggested that Aphrodite could have been spinning cotton in her 1994 book, "Women's work: The first 20,000 years."
The theory that the goddess was performing such a mundane chore was first proposed in the 1950s. An expert noticed the pose looked similar to other spinning statues and images on pottery.
Barber claimed that the statue, on display at the Louvre museum in Paris, once held cotton fibers in her left arm, while her right guided a thread to a weighted spindle. The pose familiar to many women in 100 BC, when the statue is believed to have been carved.
She said that the chore is apt if it were performed by the goddess of beauty, love and reproduction, because "Something new is coming into being where before there was at most an amorphous mass."
"'Accuracy' is tricky to characterize with a speculative reconstruction, but the underlying 3D model of the original sculpture is extremely accurate. It is the most accurate 3D survey of the Venus de Milo in the world," designer Cosmo Wenman says.
"I produced it in 2013 - as a separate project of my own - when I took many hundreds of carefully staged photos of an 1850 plaster cast of Venus at the Skulpturhalle Basel museum in Switzerland.
"I processed those photos with Autodesk's Memento 3D photogrammetric software, which reverse engineered the photos into the 3D model."
Using sketches by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Wenman used images of Greek vase paintings to work out how to create the hands. He also copied the spinning tools from a vase painting at the British Museum.
Ancient Greek vases show prostitutes spinning thread to keep themselves busy while waiting for clients.
"From there I gathered several images of ancient Greek vase paintings, and created an amalgam of their arm and hand positions that worked with Venus' existing anatomy, Wenman said.
"Using my 3D survey of Venus as a foundation, extending her arms in the directions indicated by her existing anatomy leads quite naturally to the spinning poses shown in the vases."