This piece is so similar to another found at Capidava, a Geto-Dacian centre on the right bank of the Danube, that it is likely they are form the same workshop.
An excerpt from an article on the example found at Capidava reads: "The distaff is, together with a spindle, the most important instrument for the production of yarn in antiquity. The washed and plucked raw wool is first put in the form of a coarse knot on the distaff. Then it is spun into a fine thread by the use of a spindle...Some experts argue that the distaffs present in graves are a symbol of marriage and emphasize the faithfulness, respectability and industriousness of the deceased wife. However, this conclusion is partially true as based on a survey made on a group of fifteen funerary stelae from Pannonia on which spindles and distaffs are present, only in one case the woman was properly and legally married according to Roman laws. Therefore, one can argue that probably the institution of marriage was not the primary characteristic that these objects were trying to emphasize but rather the attributes of virtuousness and faithfulness of Roman women.
The ring distaffs are more often discovered throughout the eastern part of the Roman Empire, from Pannonia, the Lower Danube and beyond. The Venus distaffs are somewhat rarer, but even within this category there are different subcategories. There are three different poses in which the allegedly goddess Venus is depicted: naked lady with a child in her arms, half-naked girl in the Venus Pudica pose and naked girl standing and holding a fascia pectoralis over her breasts.
Venus embodies feminine beauty and eroticism and is also the ancestral mother of the Roman people, as Venus Genetrix. It often appears as hand jewellery or in some cases on hand utensils and is frequently related with fertility and sexual health.
The Venus Pudica pose was introduced by Praxiteles in the 4th c. B.C. with his creation, Aphrodite of Cnidos, and was reproduced by various artist ever since, throughout history. The image of the beautiful naked woman barely covering her nakedness has become a symbol of feminity, sexuality, frailty of the fairer sex etc. Taking into account the different opinions on the subject I incline to concur with the scepticism of Judith Pasztókai-Szeöke for the identity of the depicted figure."
ProvenanceMr and Mrs Robert Feuer, New York, USA; acquired 1970s-1980s
LiteratureCompare Alexandru Rațiu, 'Venus pudica on a bone distaff from Capidava', Cercetări Arheologice, 1:137-150, pl.II-III
Also see Flinders Petrie, Objects of Daily Use (London, 1927), pl.XIX, no.64 and Antike und byzantinische Kleinkunst aus ausländischem und Münchener Privatbesitz (Munich, 1913), pl.18, no.1019