Thursday 8 March 2012

The Enduring Classical Beauty of the Venus de Milo

 A bonded marble facsimile of the Venus de Milo

My recent chance bargain find in a second hand shop of an unusually heavy 25cm high bonded marble facsimile of the famous Venus de Milo  led me to explore the origins and history of this classical Greek beauty.

The original Venus de Milo in the Louvre, Paris
[Source : Internet]

Sculpted in Parian marble sometime between 130BC and 100BC, the original statue is strongly believed to represent Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love. The original stands 6ft 8in high, and from an inscription on its plinth (now missing), is believed to be the work of Alexander of Antioch.

Famous for her missing arms, it is believed that her right arm was lowered across her body, the right hand resting on her raised left knee to "hold" her drapery in place. The left arm was held at just below the eye level of the statue with the hand holding up an apple. It would have thus appeared that the Goddess was looking up at the apple. Interestingly, as beautiful as she is in white marble, she would originally have been painted and adorned with jewellery, as was then the custom. Holes to attach the jewellery are still evident.

The original Venus de Milo - Three Quarter view
[Source : Internet]

The Venus de Milo was originally found by a peasant inside a buried niche within the ancient city of Milos on the Aegean Island of Milos in 1820. Parts of her fragmented arms were also located, including her hand holding the apple, and an inscribed plinth.

A French naval officer recognised its significance and arranged for its purchase by the French Ambassador to Turkey. By the time news of the discovery had reached the Ambassador and he had despatched his representative with payment the peasant had already been persuaded to sell the statue to "the Grand Dragoman of the [Turkish] Fleet". When the French representative arrived the statue was in fact being hoisted aboard a ship bound for Constantinople. Some rather quick negotiating ensued and the sale was annulled. Thus France secured this statue truly at the eleventh hour.

The Venus de Milo -
Rear view
[Source : Internet]

Upon arrival at the Louvre Palace (Palais du Louvre), the fragments of the arms were initially thought not to be original because of a lessor quality of workmanship. It is now accepted that they are genuine, with the left arm and hand simply being less detailed due to it being generally above eye level and not so obvious to onlookers.

A drawing by Jean Babtiste Joseph Debay of
the statue together with the missing plinth,
published in 1821
 [Source : Internet]

The also controversial - but perfectly fitting - plinth mysteriously disappeared shortly before the statue was presented to King Louis XVIII of France in 1821. The King however, being a great benefactor to the arts, formally added the statue to the Louvre Museum in Paris where it still resides. It was King Louis XVIII who in fact named the statue "Venus de Milo", meaning "Venus of the apple", milo in Greek meaning simply "apple".

Her beauty, however, lies in her imperfect nature and she is simply one of great masterpiece of art in the World today.

Bibliography :

- Public Internet resources and non-copyrighted images.

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