Image Credits: CC BY-SA 4.0, by Livioandronico2013
Artists:Alexandros of Antioch (possibly) Material:Parian marble Date:130-100 BC Dimensions: 2.02 m in height Period:Hellenistic Period, Ancient Greece Discovery: 1820, island of Milos, Aegean Current Location:Louvre Museum, Paris Theme:Woman, Venus, Aphrodite, Greek Mythology Subject:Fertility, Love
The Venus de Milo, named after the island where it was found, is an icon of the Hellenistic style, believed to have been created by Alexandros of Antioch. Sharing various aspects with its Hellenistic sister sculptures, Venus de Milo is one of the most cited sculptures in modern art.
The Venus de Milo, named after the island where it was found, is a sculpture from the later period of the Hellenistic period, dating between 130 and 90 BC. It depicts Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love (or Venus as its Roman equivalent), captured in a moment as the drapery wrapped around her legs slips over her hips, with the body composing a balanced tension, evoking movement. The sculptural nude figure (bare chest down to the waist) is devoid of arms, which have been broken off and are yet to be found. Just over life size, it has a total of two meters in height. The Venus is made from Parian marble, originally carved from two individual blocks which were then fitted together, fixed with vertical pegs, a technique vastly used in ancient Greece. The work is believed to have been created by Alexandros of Antioch (a note that was signed on the plinth that is now lost identified the sculptor); very little is known about this artist. Initially, it was also attributed to Praxiteles (c. 375-335 BC), who is widely considered to be one of the greatest sculptors of the Classical era, however since the city of Antioch was only founded after 270 BC, after the end of the Classical period, the sculpture has been accepted as an Hellenistic work. Discovered in the 19th century, the sculpture is filled with mysteries, as not many facts are known. Its purpose is unknown, however it was common practice to commission works of mythological events and characters by noble patrons. Theories proposed by the Louvre Museum speculate that it might be a Roman replica of an original Greek sculpture, due to its resemblance with the Aphrodite of Capua (Roman Imperial period), which is widely regarded as a replica of an original Aphrodite (4th century BC).
Partial view of Venus de Milo
Roman Copy of Aphrodite of Capua (Roman Imperial period), National Archeological Museum, Naples
The work is a sculpture of the Goddess Aphrodite, who in ancient Greek mythology, is the goddess of love and beauty; its Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus, which bears the same traits and principles. It is generally accepted that the sculpture depicts Aphrodite in the story of the Judgment of Paris. This myth, which speaks of the young Trojan prince called Paris, was given a golden apple by the goddess of Discord and told to give it to the most beautiful of the three goddesses: Aphrodite, Athena and Hera. Aphrodite won by bribing the prince with the love of Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful mortal woman. The sculpture is believed to depict the moment when Aphrodite holds the apple in her hand. Other beliefs attribute the woman to be Amphitrite, the goddess of the sea, a goddess highly worshiped at the island of Milos (where she was found). Other speculations vary according to which object she might carry: the possibility of carrying an amphora, made her Artemis or a Danaid for example. The fact that she wears a headband (tainia) and not the normal crown (stephanē) of Aphrodite, grants strong claims for these latter speculations. However, her foot raised up was a symbol of her superiority and divinity, which means that she was definitely a Goddess.
Copy of Aphrodite of Knidos from the 4th century BC, original by Praxiteles
Fresco from Pompeii, Casa di Venus, 1st century AD
Statue of Aphrodite (c. 2nd BC, original from 4th century BC), restored by Antonio Canova (CC BY 2.0, by Tilemahos Efthimiadis)
The work was discovered in 1820, in the Aegean island of Melos (also called Milos), in the south-western Cyclades. It was found by a local farmer, Yorgos Kentrotas, who was excavating local ruins of a wall to use the stones for building materials; buried inside a small niche was the top part of the sculpture. Olivier Voutier, a French Navy officer whose ship was harbored at Melos, who had been searching for antiques, got involved with the farmer’s discovery and assisted in discovering the remaining parts of the work. The work was divided in two parts: the upper torso and the draped bottom limbs. Other loose parts were discovered including the plinth with the words “…sandros from Anchiochia on the Meander” inscribed, and a left arm and hand holding an apple. Other fragments also discovered at the time, especially of the left hand and arm, were discarded as not belonging to the work due to their rougher appearance, however it is known today that this was a common practice (different parts with different levels of execution). There is great mystery and doubt as to whether these parts belonged to the sculpture or not.
Map of Island of Milos (1690), by Jacob Peeters
News of the discovery spread fast. A second French officer, Jules Dumont d’Urville got involved and notified Marquis de Riviere (French Consul to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople), who arranged it to be shipped to France as a gift to Louis XVIII who instantly donated it to the Louvre Museum. It arrived in Paris in 1821. Upon its arrival, the original base of the sculpture, its plinth, had been lost; and the location of the other limbs are unknown; this is cause for much speculation, making some believe that they were lost when the sculpture was taken to the Louvre, whereas other scholars believe they were already missing when the work was found. At the Louvre, the work was instantly identified as a masterpiece of the Greek classical era, and named “Venus Victrix” (the victorious Aphrodite). However since later research estimated its production to 100 BC, the later Hellenestic classification has become standard. She was instantly given prominence in location, making the sculpture an aesthetic reference of the museum; a proper left foot was added, and a new pedestal given to the work; some of the other pieces were displayed in glass casings. It was part of the Louvre’s campaign, at the time, to regain its notability (after having lost some significant pieces). Many theories have been proposed over time about how the figure could have been. Reconstructions ignore the inscribed part of the original plinth, which on the top has a square hole for attaching an object. Félix Ravaisson, curator of Antiquities at the Louvre from 1870 CE, proposed a reconstruction that the Venus de Milo was in fact placed with the god of war, Ares (or Mars) – the goddess counterpart. Aphrodite stood on the right side, and Mars on her left. Other theories proposed that she held a shield.
The Venus of Milo has a great importance to art history in general. It is widely considered one of the most significant examples of sculpture from Ancient Greece, one of the great treasures of Greek art, and is perceived as the most well-known statue in the history of sculpture. Since its discovery in 1820, it has become part of an archetypal idea of what art is being used as the standard and cannon for beauty and aesthetics. In general, the work is seen to represent the epitome of female beauty and aesthetics. Highly archetypal and universally recognized, the sculpture has become widely known for its beauty and for its missing parts.
The work is a combination of styles and influences, possessing many characteristics of the High Classical Greek Sculpture (c. 450-400 BC) and many principles that follow the new Hellenistic style or aesthetics at the time. Since Hellenistic sculpture focused on the development of individual unique moments and movements (rather than universal static poses), a fundamental aspect is the movement of the body, which undulates in an ‘S’ curved pose, contra-balancing the hip with the shoulders, creating a very dynamic pose. The contrast in textures is also new, creating a difference between the drapery and the nude flesh; the erotic hint of the drapery which seems to be falling is also a fundamental new approach; other notorious features include the small breasted elongated body which was characteristic of the time, and the natural and spontaneous pose rather than a strict upheld approach; the works harmony and equilibrium is an ode to the Hellenistic’s approach. In contrast, the impassivity of the head and the air of detachment seems to still depict High Classical Greek influences. As was characteristic of the time, the sculpture would have been painted with colored pigments, aimed at creating a more ‘life-like’ appearance; the sculptures were then decorated with jewelry (many perforations still remain of a bracelet, a headband and earrings).
One of the main fundamental aspects of composition that define the pose is the ‘S’ curved shape defined by the movement of the body, a compositional effect called contrapposto. This spiral composition created a new way to position the figure in space, creating a new sense of three-dimensionality. Reconstructions estimate that the right arm lays across the torso, resting the right hand on the left knee clasping the drapery; whereas the left arm was raised holding the apple up at eye level. Made to be seen from several angles, it disconnects from its archaic frontal ancessor, and instead gives true meaning to three-dimensionality. This twisting motion of the body and the play between diagonals, creates a more theatrical, asymmetrical and sinuous composition, and epitomises the concept of sensuality and feminine beauty.
The most common technique used in sculpting in Ancient times is stone carving. However, marble as the material of choice only happened in Ancient Classicism, firstly by the hands of the Greeks.The Venus is made from Parian marble, originally carved from two individual blocks which were then fitted together and fixed with vertical pegs – a technique vastly used in ancient Greece. The figure is presented in only half nude, with a long drapery wrapped around her waist. This decision is not merely aesthetic, it also possesses a very specific function. This way, the sculpture has a bigger mass on its base and, even though it is masked by the weightless illusion of the carving, this offers strong stability to the piece – a clever aspect common in Ancient Antiquity.
Detail of the Venus of Milo (CC BY 2.0, by Bradley Weber)
The sculpture became an archetype of beauty and femininity. The idealization of feminine beauty, using ideal proportions and embodying a natural grace, created a reference to the perfection of the divine. Simultaneously, the universal beauty she creates, it’s no stranger to her symbolism. The goddesses Aphrodite (Greek) and Venus (Roman) are both the goddesses of Love and Beauty, often connected with adjacent concepts such as fertility, prosperity, victory, sex and desire. The Roman Goddess, specifically, born of the sea foam, embodies the principle of beauty (as her curves mimic waves) and fertility (water as the bearer of all life), which made her very significant to the Romans; the goddess became truly prominent in Ancient mythology when the cult of Venus was implemented in the 3rd century BC in Imperial Rome. Moving from the significance of the Classical goddesses, the fame of Venus de Milo is greatly derived from the absence of her arms, greatly adding to her mysterious and strange fascination and mystery. Although it is speculated that it was a natural pose, the mystery of the arms will never be solved, leaving the work to be an eternal riddle. In fact, the pose itself creates a mysterious aura to the work, as if the narrative has become open ended, leaving the spectator wondering.
The Venus of Arles (1st century BC) is another Hellenestic sculpture of Aphrodite, also of the same time; there are notorious similarities between both. The resemblance with sculptures which all depict Aphrodite in a similar manner are prominent; the pose was an archetypal way of depicting the Greek goddess and later became the standard look of Venus. Some remarkable examples of both include Aphrodite of Knidos (4th century) by Praxiteles, Aphrodite with Turtle (2nd-3rd century BC), Aphrodite Heyl (2nd century BC), Statue of Aphrodite (c. 2nd BC, original from 4th century BC) which was restored by Antonio Canova (1757-1822), a marble statue of Aphrodite (1st-2nd century AD) at the MET, Venus Genitrix (1st-2nd centuries AD) at the Louvre – after Callimachus’ Aphrodite (5th century) -, and Lely’s Venus (2nd century AD). It is also possible to announce connections between the Venus de Milo and other sculptures of the same Hellenistic period, which evoke the same principles, including the The Dying Gaul (230-220 BC), The Laocoon(40-20 BC) and theWinged Victory of Samothrace(2nd century BC), which all use a similar depiction of the human body, with contorting motion, curvatures and the use of dramatic moments captured in time.
The work has had a profound influence on numerous artists across time. A notorious reference is given by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) in 1911, who wrote an ode to Venus de Milo praising her for her beautiful harmonious proportions and divine grace, making a further reference to her universal beauty. Among other modern artists, the influence and impact it had on Salvador Dalí (19041989) and on modern art in general was profound; the painting Venus de Milo with Drawers (1936), and The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969–1970), as well as other works of his, all feature the sculpture transformed in some way. Another notable influence is found in the work of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), the post-impressionist painter, who did a pencil study of the sculpture in 1881. Many other painters referenced this Venus as well, of which Édouard Vuillard’s (1868-1940) Venus de Milo (1920) is a good example. The iconic image is widely part of modern culture.
The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969–1970) by Salvador Dalí
Venus de Milo (1920), by Édouard Vuillard
Furthermore, many famous works of art have been inspired by Venus or Aphrodite, the goddess of Love, since Ancient Antiquity. Of reference is the Birth of Venus (1485-1486) by Sandro Boticelli (1445-1510), the Birth of Venus (1863) by Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), and the Birth of Venus (1879) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). Other significant examples include: The Venus of Urbino (1534) by Titian (1490-1576), The Sleeping Venus (1510) by Giorgione (1478-1510) or Titian, and Venus Now Wakes and Awakens Love (1828) by William Etty (1787-1849).
The Birth of Venus (1485-1486) by Sandro Boticelli
Sculpture: From antiquity to the present By Georges Duby and Jean-Luc Daval (2015)
The elements of sculpture: a viewer’s guide By Herbert George (2014)
History of Art By H. W. Janson (1995)
Image Credits: (2) CC BY 2.0, by Bradley Weber
Artist: Epigonus of Pergamon Title: Dying Gaul Date: 230-220 BC Medium: Marble Location: Capitoline Museums, Rome Image Credits: CC BY-SA 3.0, by BeBo86
Discovery: Pergamon, Greece Title: Pergamon Altar Date: c. 180–160 BC Medium: Marble Location: Pergamon Museum, Berlin Image Credits: CC BY-SA 4.0, by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta
Title: Roman copy of the Sleeping Hermaphroditus Date: 2nd century BC Medium: Marble Dimensions: 169 x 89 cm Location: Louvre Museum, Paris
Discovery: 1506, in Rome Artists: Hagesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus Title: Laocoon and His Sons Date: 40-20 BC Medium: Greek Parian white marble Dimensions: (H) 2 m Location: Vatican Museums, Vatican City
Title: The Venus of Arles Date: 1st century BC Medium: Marble Location: Louvre Museum, Paris
Title: The Three Graces Date: 2nd century BC Medium: Marble Dimensions: 119 x 85 cm Location: Louvre Museum, Paris
Title: Copy of the Old Drunkard Date: 2nd century BC Medium: Marble Location:Capitoline Museums, Rome
Title: The Punishment of Dirce (known as The Farnese Bull) Date: 2nd century BC Medium: Mosaic Location: National Archeological Museum, Naples Image credits:CC BY-SA 3.0, by Vermip
Title: Roman Copy of Aphrodite of Capua Date: Roman Imperial period Medium: Marble Location: National Archeological Museum, Naples
Artist: Restored by Antonio Canova Title: Statue of Aphrodite Date: c. 2nd BC (original from 4th century BC) Medium: Marble Location: National Archeological Museum of Athens, Greece Image credits:CC BY 2.0, by Tilemahos Efthimiadis
Title: Venus of Rhodes Date: 1st century BC Medium: Marble Location: Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, Greece
Title: Lely’s Venus Date: 2nd century AD Medium: Marble Location: British Museum, London
Title: Aphrodite Heyl Date: 2nd century BC Medium: Terracotta Dimensions: (H) 37.6 cm Location: Altes Museum, Berlin
Artist: Praxiteles (original) Title: Roman Copy of Aphrodite of Knidos Date: 4th century BC (original) Medium: Marble Location: Museo nazionale romano di palazzo Altemps, Rome
Title: Venus Genitrix Date: 1st-2nd centuries AD Medium: Marble Dimensions: (H) 1.64 cm Location: Louvre Museum, Paris Image credits:CC BY-SA 3.0, by Baldiri
Artist: Doidalsas of Bithynia (original) Title: Crouching Aphrodite Date: copy of 1st century BC (original from 3rd century BC) Medium: Marble Location: Museo nazionale romano di palazzo Altemps, Rome Image credits:CC BY 2.5, by Marie-Lan Nguyen
Title: Statue of Aphrodite Date: 1st-2nd century AD Medium: Marble Dimensions: (H) 158.8 cm (with plinth) Location: Metropolitan Museum of Arte
Title: Aphrodite with Turtle Date: 2nd-3rd century BC Medium: Marble Dimensions: 57 x 22 x 14 cm Location: Louvre Museum, Paris Image credits:CC BY-SA 3.0 fr, Rama
Title: Little Aphrodite Date: c. 2nd BC (original from 4th century BC) Medium: Marble Location: Museo archeologico provinciale Francesco Ribezzo, Brindisi, Italy Image credits:CC BY-SA 4.0, by LPLT
Title: Ares and Aphrodite Date: 1st century AD Medium: Mosaic from Pompeii Location: National Archeological Museum, Naples
Artist: Sandro Boticelli Title: The Birth of Venus Date: 1485-1486 Medium: Tempera on canvas Dimensions: 172.5 x 278.5 cm Location: Uffizi, Florence
Artist: Titian Title: Venus of Urbino Date: 1534 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions:119.2 x 165.5 cm Location: Uffizi, Florence
Artist: Giorgione or Titian Title: The Sleeping Venus Date: 1510 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 108.5 x 175 cm Location: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany
Artist: Alexandre Cabanel Title: The Birth of Venus Date: 1863 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 130 x 225 cm Location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Artist: William Blake Richmond Title: Venus and Anchises Date: 1889-1890 Medium:Oil on canvas Dimensions:148,6 x 296,5 cm Location:Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England
Artist: William Etty Title: Venus Now Wakes and Awakens Love, also known as Dawn of Love Date: 1828 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 88.6 x 98 cm Location: Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
Artist: William-Adolphe Bouguereau Title: The Birth of Venus Date: 1879 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 300 x 218 cm Location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Artist: Salvador Dalí Title: The Hallucinogenic Toreador Date: 1969–1970 Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: 399 x 300 cm Location: The Dali Museum, Florida, USA
Artist: Édouard Vuillard Title: Venus de Milo Date: 1920 Medium: Oil on canvas Location: Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York, USA