Monday, March 7, 2005

Apple #45: Venus de Milo


I saw the Venus de Milo once, when I was in Paris several years ago. I went to the Louvre, which is massive, got a map, and went looking. Following the map, I turned left at Winged Victory like I was supposed to, but every time I thought I was about to find her, I wound up in the stupid decorative porcelains room. Finally, I ran out of time and had to leave the museum. So I went back the next day and looked some more. When I finally found her, it was like the angelic music played and a light shone on her. I sat on the carpeted bench that surrounded the dias where she stood and just sat there, for a good ten minutes. I'm sitting here with the Venus de Milo, I told myself. That's the Venus de Milo right behind me.

And she really was that beautiful. There's such grace and movement in her pose, and a kind of cockiness too. She's not a woman who just stands there and looks pretty. She's got a force in her, no denying it.

(Photo from UTexas' syllabus on Aphrodite)

  • Venus de Milo is the Romanized version of her name; she is more accurately called Aphrodite of Melos, after the Greek island where she was found.
  • Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and beauty. It's pretty bold to say, Yes, I can carve a statue that is the epitome of beauty.
  • People say the way the cloth is draped about her hips represents that kind of bravado, in that it is intricately carved, yet manages to convey a sensuousness at the same time. The drapery also cleverly hides the seam where the statue, carved in two sections, joins together.
  • It is not certain who sculpted the statue, but people are now pretty sure it was probably Alexandros of Antioch, son of Menides, who was also a singer and composer.
  • (Alexandros was also the name of Paris, the guy who essentially started the Trojan War, when he picked Aphrodite in a goddess beauty contest because she promised him the most beautiful woman in the world.)
  • The statue was sculpted around 150 BC, in an era known as the Hellenistic period.
  • She was found by a Greek peasant on an island in the Aegean sea, called Melos (hence, the name), in 1820.
  • At the time, the Turks were in charge of Greece, so they took the statue from the peasant.
  • The French then purchased her from the Turks for 1,000 francs, or roughly the cost of a sizable herd of goats. This purchase was part of France's campaign to acquire excellent pieces of classical art and thus compete with England and Italy.
  • As it turned out, the statue was not of the classical but Hellenistic period, which meant to the French at that time that it was not as good. So they went to lots of trouble to try to obscure some of the facts about its history, and in so doing, created lots of publicity for the statue. This was the beginning of the Venus de Milo's rise to its current level of fame.
  • The statue was presented to King Louis XVIII, who was so fat he was carted around in a wheelchair. French sculptors tried to provide arms for the statue, depicting her holding all kinds of things, from apples to lamps, and pointing in various directions. The king declared that she should be left armless, that her beauty should not be marred by the additions of any other sculptor. This was unheard of at the time, that a broken statue should be left as it had been found.
  • She is now the second-most famous work of art in the world, behind the Mona Lisa.
  • The number of websites selling reproductions of this statue is staggering. It's hard to find even a picture of the real thing.

Loggia's art history section,
Aphrodite of Melos
Wikipedia's page on the
Venus de Milo
The Louvre's page on the
Venus de Milo, translated from the French
Base Deception," Smithsonian Magazine, October 2003
Photo from
the Louvre

1 comment:

  1. The John Prine song "Please Don't Bury Me Down in the Cold, Cold Ground" is Prine's plea to send his body parts to others who need them. "Give my knees to the needy" and "The deaf can have both my ears if they don't mind the size" are two examples. However, the best line is:

    "Venus de Milo can have my arms,
    Look out! I've got your nose..."


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