Venus Callipyge

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Venus Kallipygos
Venus kallipygos03.jpg
Artist Anonymous
Year 1st or 2nd century BC[1]
Type White marble
Location National Archaeological Museum, Naples

The Venus Callipyge, also known as the Aphrodite Kallipygos (Greek: Ἀφροδίτη Καλλίπυγος) or the Callipygian Venus, all literally meaning "Venus (or Aphrodite) of the beautiful buttocks",[2] is an Ancient Roman marble statue, thought to be a copy of an older Greek original. In an example of anasyrma, it depicts a partially draped woman, raising her light peplos to uncover her hips and buttocks, and looking back and down over her shoulder, perhaps to evaluate them. The subject is conventionally identified as Venus (Aphrodite), though it may equally be a portrait of a mortal woman.

The marble statue extant today dates to the late 1st century BC.[3] The lost Greek original on which it is based is thought to have been bronze, and to have been executed around 300 BC, towards the beginning of the Hellenistic era.[3] The provenance of the marble copy is unknown, but it was rediscovered, missing its head, in the early modern era. The head was restored, first in the 16th century and again in the 18th century (in which case the sculptor followed the earlier restoration fairly closely); the restored head was made to look over the shoulder, drawing further attention to the statue's bare buttocks and thereby contributing to its popularity.[4] In the 17th and 18th centuries the statue was identified as Venus and associated with a temple to Aphrodite Kallipygos at Syracuse, discussed by Athenaeus in his Deipnosophists. The statue was copied a number of times, including by Jean-Jacques Clérion and François Barois.


Venus Kallipygos

The Venus Kallipygos as we have it is a Roman work in marble, dating to the late 1st century BC.[3] It is considered to be a copy or "paraphrase" of an older Greek statue, probably bronze. This lost original is thought to have been created around 300 BC, near the inception of the Hellenistic era.[3] Its sculptor and provenance are unknown. It was rediscovered, missing its head, in Rome by at least the 16th century. It is sometimes said to have been found in the ruins of Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea, though this is unlikely, as fragments uncovered there contained no evidence of high-quality artworks such as the Venus.[5]

The missing head was reconstructed in the 16th century; a more thorough reconstruction was undertaken by Carlo Albacini in the late 18th century.[4] The restorers decided to have the figure look over her shoulder at her own buttocks, a choice that gave the Venus its distinctive pose and had a significant effect on later interpretations of the work.[4][6] The statue was acquired by the Farnese family and was in the Palazzo Farnese by 1594; it may be the draped Venus described as being in the palace by visitors earlier that century.[7] In the 17th century it is known to have been kept in the palace's Sala dei Filosophi, where it stood surrounded by statues of eighteen ancient philosophers. In 1731 the Farnese estate was inherited by Charles of Bourbon, who moved some of the marbles, including the Venus, across the Tiber River to the Villa Farnesina.[8]

In 1786 the Bourbons decided to move the Venus Kallipygos to Naples with the rest of the Farnese collection. First, however, it was sent to be restored by Carlo Albacini. Responding to contemporary criticisms of some of the statue's features, Albacini replaced the head, the arms, and one leg;[9] he followed the previous restoration fairly faithfully in having the figure look back over her shoulder.[4] By 1792 the statue was at the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, and by 1802 it was in the Museo degli Studi, now the Naples National Archaeological Museum, where it remains.[10]


The restorers' decision to have the figure look over her back greatly affected subsequent interpretations, to the point that the classicists Mary Beard and J. G. W. Henderson describe it as having "created a 'masterpiece' in place of a fragment".[6] The restored statue's pose draws further attention to the naked buttocks, and gives the figure a distinctly erotic aspect.[6] The restoration recalled in the minds of viewers a story recorded in Athenaeus' Deipnosophists 12.554 c–e of two girls in Syracuse who were trying to decide which of them had the more shapely buttocks:[4][11]

"The people of those days were so attached to their sensual pleasures that they even went so far as to dedicate a temple to Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks, for the following reason. Once upon a time a farmer had two beautiful daughters. One day these girls, getting into a dispute as to which one had a more beautiful backside,[12] went out onto the public street. And by chance a young man was passing by, the son of a rich old man. They showed themselves to him, and when he saw them he voted in favor of the older girl. And in fact, falling in love with her,[13] when he got back to town, he took to his bed and told his younger brother everything that had happened. And the younger brother also went to the country and saw the girls, and he fell in love with the other daughter. And so when the boys' father tried to get them to marry someone of the upper classes, he couldn't persuade his sons, and so he brought the girls in from the country, with their father's permission, and married them to his sons. And so these girls were called fair-buttocked by the citizens, as Cercidas of Megalopolis says in his Iambic Verses: "There was a pair of beautiful-buttocked girls in Syracuse".[14] And so these girls, when they got wealthy and famous, founded a temple of Aphrodite[15] and called the goddess the Fair-buttocked,[16] as Archelaus of Chersonesus tells us in his Iambic Verses."[17]
Venus Callipyge by François Barois, 1683–86 (Musée du Louvre)

This tale was circulated in Vincenzo Cartari's 16th-century retelling of stories from classical mythology, Le Imagini.[18] The fact that there was a religious cult of Aphrodite Kallipygos at Syracuse is also mentioned by the Christian author Clement of Alexandria in a list of erotic manifestations of pagan religion.[19] Clement cites the poet Nicander of Colophon, and generously quotes the alternative term (kalligloutos, "with a beautiful bottom") that Nicander used.[20]

Many viewers of the 17th and 18th centuries identified the subject as the goddess, and supposed the work to be a cult statue to Venus Kallipygos.[18] It was thus often described at the time as Venus exiting the bath. Others, however, identified it instead with one of the "beautiful-buttocked" girls from Athenaeus' story, and as such it was alternatively known as "La Belle Victorieuse" or "La Bergère Grecque".[18]

In 1836, Famin called it a "charming statuette"[21] but noted that it was:

"...placed in a reserved hall, where the curious are only introduced under the surveillance of a guardian, though even this precaution has not prevented the rounded forms which won for the goddess the name of Callipyge, from being covered with a dark tint, which betrays the profane kisses that fanatic admirers have every day impressed there. We ourselves knew a young German tourist smitten with a mad passion for this voluptuous marble; and the commiseration his state of mind inspired set aside all idea of ridicule."[22]

Modern copies[edit]

A marble copy by Jean-Jacques Clérion (1686) was sent to Versailles. Another copy was made by François Barois during his residence at the French Academy in Rome, 1683-86. It was sent to Versailles, then to Marly-le-Roi in 1695, where it was provided with additional marble draperies by Jean Thierry, not to offend an increasingly prudish public taste; it remained at Marly until the Revolution, when it found its way to the Jardin des Tuileries.[23]

Augustus the Strong ordered a copy, which was executed by Pierre de l’Estache in Rome between 1722–23, for the Grosser Garten, Dresden. However it was destroyed in 1945 (Desmas 2002).[24]

Modern appreciation[edit]

The 19th-century identification was re-popularised by the 20th century lyrics of the French songwriter Georges Brassens, in his "Vénus Callipyge",[25] which seems explicitly to reference Jean de La Fontaine in his Conte Tiré d'Athénée,[26] among the posthumous tales (the third under that title in the so-called contes libertins, the first two in the Première partie, published 10 January 1665), which paraphrases Athenaeus' account and ends in direct reference to the famous buttocks:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Venere callipige — Sito ufficiale del Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli" (in Italian). Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  2. ^ From the Greek words κάλλος (beauty) and πυγη (buttocks). The English "callipygian" has the same derivation and meaning."Callipygian". Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. Retrieved June 6, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d Havelock, p. 100.
  4. ^ a b c d e Fenton, p. 16.
  5. ^ Moormann 2003.
  6. ^ a b c Beard, p. 123.
  7. ^ Haskell, p. 316.
  8. ^ Haskell, p. 66 and note; 316.
  9. ^ Haskell, p. 318.
  10. ^ Haskell, pp. 316–317.
  11. ^ "Exposed: The Victorian Nude". Tate. Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  12. ^ Literally, "was more beautiful-buttocked [kallipygotera]".
  13. ^ eis erota empeson
  14. ^ kallipygon zeugos
  15. ^ The original of this statue type was thought in the 19th century to be this temple's cult statue.
  16. ^ Kallipygon
  17. ^ Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 12.554 c–e.Translation by D. B. Levine, adjusted
  18. ^ a b c Haskell, p. 317.
  19. ^ Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 2.39.2.
  20. ^ Nicander fragment 23 (see the edition by A. S. F. Gow and A. F. Scholfield, 1953, p. 203). Nicander had to use a different word because kallipygos will not fit into Greek hexameter verse.
  21. ^ Statuette, at that time, was not a synonym for figurine, but meant any smaller-than-life statue
  22. ^ "The Royal Museum at Naples: Plate III: Venus Callipyge". Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  23. ^ [1][dead link]
  24. ^ "Venus Callipyge". Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  25. ^ "VENUS CALLIPYGE - Lyrics - International Lyrics Playground". 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2015-07-29. 
  26. ^ "Conte tirι d'Athιnιe". Retrieved 2015-07-29.