Venus de Milo

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Venus de Milo
Greek: Αφροδίτη της Μήλου
Venus de Milo on display at the Louvre
ArtistAlexandros of Antioch
YearBetween 150 and 125 BC
MediumParian marble
SubjectAphrodite
Dimensions204 cm (6 ft 8 in)
ConditionArms broken off; otherwise intact
LocationLouvre, Paris

The Venus de Milo (/də ˈml, də ˈml/; Greek: Αφροδίτη της Μήλου, romanizedAfrodíti tis Mílou) is an ancient Greek sculpture from the Hellenistic period, depicting a Greek goddess. It is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. The Venus de Milo has been prominently displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris since shortly after the statue was rediscovered on the island of Milos, Greece in 1820.

Sculpted sometime between 150 and 125 BC,[1] the work was originally attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles, but, based upon an inscription on its plinth, the statue is now widely agreed to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch.[2] The statue is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, and it bears the name of Venus, the Roman counterpart of Aphrodite. Some scholars theorize that the statue actually represents the sea-goddess Amphitrite, who was venerated on Milos.[3] Made of Parian marble, the statue is slightly larger than life size, standing 204 cm (6 ft 8 in) high.[4] The statue is missing both arms, with part of one arm, as well as the original plinth, being lost after the statue's rediscovery.

The sculpture is sometimes called the Aphrodite de Milos, due to the imprecision of naming the Greek sculpture after the Roman deity Venus.[5]

Description[edit]

The Venus de Milo is a 204 cm (6.69 ft) tall Parian marble statue of a Greek goddess, most likely Aphrodite, depicted half-clothed with a bare torso. The statue originally would have had two arms, two feet, both earlobes intact and a plinth; early sketches following the statue's rediscovery show part of the left arm and the plinth, though not the missing left foot, intact, but these were subsequently lost after the statue's rediscovery.

Though further damaged following rediscovery, the reason behind the Venus de Milo's arms being missing in the first place is unknown.[6][page needed] There is a filled hole below her right breast that originally contained a metal tenon that would have supported the separately carved right arm. Without arms, it is unclear what the statue originally looked like, but textile archeologist Elizabeth Wayland Barber notes that the posture of Venus de Milo suggests that she may have been hand spinning.[7][8]

Discovery and history[edit]

Discovery[edit]

Site of the discovery of the Venus de Milo

It is generally asserted that the Venus de Milo was discovered on 8 April 1820 by a peasant named Yorgos Kentrotas, inside a buried niche within the ancient city ruins of Milos. Milos is the current village of Trypiti, on the island of Milos (also called Melos, or Milo) in the Aegean, which was then a part of the Ottoman Empire.[9]

Elsewhere, the discoverers are identified as Yorgos Bottonis and his son Antonio. Paul Carus gave the site of discovery as "the ruins of an ancient theater in the vicinity of Castro, the capital of the island", adding that Bottonis and his son "came accidentally across a small cave, carefully covered with a heavy slab and concealed, which contained a fine marble statue in two pieces, together with several other marble fragments. This happened in February, 1820". He apparently based these assertions on an article he had read in the Century Magazine.[10]

The Australian historian Edward Duyker, citing a letter written by Louis Brest who was the French consul in Milos in 1820, asserts the discoverer of the statue was Theodoros Kendrotas and that he has been confused with his younger son Georgios (known phonetically as Yorgos) who later claimed credit for the find. Duyker asserts that Kendrotas was taking stone from a ruined chapel on the edge of his property – terraced land that had once formed part of a Roman gymnasium – and that he discovered an oblong cavity some 1.2 m × 1.5 m (3 ft 11 in × 4 ft 11 in) deep in the volcanic tuff. It was in this cavity, which had three wings, that Kendrotas first noticed the upper part of the statue.[11]

The consensus is that the statue was found in two large pieces (the upper torso and the lower draped legs) along with several herms (pillars topped with heads), fragments of the upper left arm and left hand holding an apple, and an inscribed plinth.

Front view
Three-quarter view
Back view
3D Model

Fame[edit]

Upon its discovery in 1820, the Venus de Milo was considered to be a significant artistic finding, but did not gain its status as an icon until later on. The exact circumstances in which she was discovered, however, are uncertain. The Louvre and in turn, French art as a whole, had suffered great losses when Napoleon's looted art collection was returned to their countries of origin. The museum lost some of its most iconic pieces, like Rome's Laocoon and His Sons and Italy's Venus de Medici. The hole that this left in French culture allowed the perfect path for the Venus de Milo to become an international icon. Based on early drawings, the plinth that had been detached from the statue was known to have dates on it, which revealed that it was created after the Classical period, which was the most desirable artistic period. This caused the French to hide the plinth, in an effort to conceal this fact before the statue's introduction to the Louvre in 1821. The Venus de Milo held a prime spot in the gallery, and became iconic, mostly due to the Louvre's branding campaign and emphasis on the statue's importance in order to regain national pride.

The great fame of the Venus de Milo during the 19th century owed much to a major propaganda effort by the French authorities. In 1815, France had returned the Venus de' Medici (also known as the Medici Venus) to the Italians, after it had been looted by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Medici Venus, regarded as one of the finest classical sculptures in existence, caused the French to promote the Venus de Milo as a greater treasure than that which they recently had lost. The statue was praised dutifully by many artists and critics as the epitome of graceful female beauty. However, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was among its detractors, labelling it a "big gendarme".[12][page needed]

Modern use[edit]

A restoration proposal by archaeologist and art historian Adolf Furtwängler in 1916 showing how the statue may have originally looked

The statue has greatly influenced masters of modern art; two prime examples are Salvador Dalí's 1936 painting Venus de Milo with Drawers[13] and his The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1969–70) and its repeated images of the statue.

The statue was formerly part of the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), one of the oldest associations of plastic surgeons in the world.[14]

In February 2010, the German magazine Focus featured a doctored image of this Venus giving Europe the middle finger, which resulted in a defamation lawsuit against the journalists and the publication.[15] They were found not guilty by the Greek court.[16]

Inspired works[edit]

Many modern artists have been inspired by the statue piece since it first arrived at the Louvre. One of the more notable pieces was created by French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne who drew a pencil study in 1881. Another inspired work was by René Magritte, who painted a reduced-scale version of plaster, with bright pink and dark blue, entitled Les Menottes de Cuivre or The Copper Handcuffs in 1931. Even more recently are the works of Neo-Dada Pop artist Jim Dine, who has often utilized the Venus de Milo in his sculptures and paintings since the 1970s. Possibly the most widely-known adaptation is that of Salvador Dalí, with his 1936 creation Venus de Milo aux tiroirs (Venus of Milos with Drawers). The Spanish Surrealist created a half-size plaster cast, painted it, and covered the slightly open drawers with metal knobs and fur pom-poms. This inspired recreation of the famous sculpture was meant to display the "goddess of love as a fetishistic anthropomorphic cabinet with secret drawers filled with a maelstrom of mysteries of sexual desires that only a modern psychoanalyst can interpret" (Oppen & Meijer, 2019).

The image of the Venus de Milo is seen constantly in modern culture, whether it be in magazines, advertisements, or home decor.

Social influence[edit]

Association with disabilities[edit]

Some later scholars, including the German anatomist, Wilhelm von Henke, noted some asymmetry in the figure and face of the Venus de Milo. Some such examples of this are a slanted pelvis, legs of different lengths, and in the facial proportions and layout. This observation has led some in the more modern day to associate the statue with representing beauty in disability, an attempted transition from the Greek obsession in the perfect human form to a more accepting appreciation for imperfection, or even inner beauty.

This belief caused some to hypothesis whether or not the Venus de Milo was purposely designed to have spinal curvature conditions, such as scoliosis, so as to further exemplify this appreciation for imperfection. But Christopher Hasse (a colleague of von Henke) performed extensive studies into the matter and concluded, along with many other scholars, that the asymmetry of the statue was not significant enough to imply any tangible spinal issues, nor was the facial layout so disproportionate to imply any condition or disease.

Cultural references[edit]

The Venus de Milo, as one of the world's most recognized artworks, has been referenced countless times in popular culture.

A common comedic gag is depicting how the statue allegedly lost its arms. In 1960, Charlie Drake performed a comedy sketch which showed museum employees accidentally breaking off the arms while packing it.[17] The 1964 film Carry On Cleo similarly featured a skit which purported to show how the statue lost its arms. In the 1997 Disney film Hercules, the title character skips a stone and inadvertently breaks both arms off the statue. Taking a different approach, in the 1975 episode "Rome Antics" of the TV show The Goodies, a Roman emperor has the undamaged statue in his quarters; another character enters and hangs his cloak on the statue, causing the head to fall off.

A plot to steal the statue is at the center of the 1966 spoof spy film The Last of the Secret Agents?, starring Marty Allen and Steve Rossi.

The Venus de Milo is often featured and parodied in television shows, including The Simpsons (in the 1994 episode "Homer Badman") and Twin Peaks. In the 1995 The Tick episode "Armless but Not Harmless", the villains "Venus and Milo" rob an art museum, while in the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses, Del Boy shows Rodney a model of the statue claiming there are sick-minded people in the world who would make such a statue of a disabled person.

Music[edit]

The statue is also frequently referenced in music. Notable examples include:

  • The 1934 song "Love Is Just Around the Corner" by Lewis E. Gensler and Leo Robin, which contains the lyrics, "Venus de Milo was noted for her charms, but strictly between us, you're cuter than Venus, and what's more you've got arms."
  • The 1956 song "Brown Eyed Handsome Man", written by Chuck Berry and covered by Buddy Holly, contains the lyrics: "The Venus de Milo was a beautiful lass. She held the world in the palm of her hand. She lost both her arms in a wrestling match to win a brown-eyed handsome man."
  • "Venus de Milo" is a track on Miles Davis' 1957 album Birth of the Cool.
  • "Venus", the second song on Television's 1977 debut album Marquee Moon, depicts the singer falling into "the arms of Venus de Milo."
  • Multiple songs by Ricardo Arjona reference the Venus de Milo, including "No te cambio por nada", which features the lyric (translated to English): "No, no, no, I will not trade you for anything, not even for a trip to Fiji with the Venus de Milo..."
  • The song "Please Don't Bury Me" by John Prine contains the lyrics "Venus DeMilo can have my arms..."
  • The 1997 song "Jupiter" by Jewel opens with the lyrics: "Venus De Milo in her half-baked shell understood the nature of love very well..."

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kousser, Rachel (2005). "Creating the Past: The Vénus de Milo and the Hellenistic Reception of Classical Greece". American Journal of Archaeology. 109 (2): 227–250. ISSN 0002-9114.
  2. ^ "Base Deception". Smithsonian. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Aphrodite Known Venus de Milo". Louvre.fr. France.
  4. ^ "statue ; Vénus de Milo". Musée du Louvre. Retrieved 27 April 2021.
  5. ^ "Aphrodite | Mythology, Worship, & Art". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  6. ^ Curtis 2003.
  7. ^ Postrel, Virginia (1 May 2015). "What Was the Venus de Milo Doing With Her Arms?". Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  8. ^ Fessenden, Marissa (6 May 2015). "The Mystery of What Venus de Milo Was Once Holding". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  9. ^ Venus de Milo at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  10. ^ Carus, Paul (1916). The Venus of Milo: An Archeological Study of the Goddess of Womanhood. Open Court Publishing Company. p. 2. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  11. ^ Duyker 2014, pp. 61–62.
  12. ^ Bonazzoli, Francesca; Robecchi, Michele (2014). Mona Lisa to Marge: How the World's Greatest Artworks Entered Popular Culture. New York: Prestel. ISBN 9783791348773.
  13. ^ "Venus de Milo with Drawers (and PomPoms)". archive.thedali.org. Retrieved 21 August 2019.
  14. ^ Brent, Burt (2008). "The Reconstruction of Venus: Following Our Legacy". Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 121 (6): 2170–2171. doi:10.1097/PRS.0b013e318170a7b6.
  15. ^ Diehn, Sonya Angelica (1 December 2011). "Greece Pursues Venus Defamation Case". Courthouse News Service. Archived from the original on 7 December 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  16. ^ "Griechisches Gericht spricht FOCUS-Journalisten frei" [Greek Court acquits Focus journalists]. Burda Newsroom (in German). 3 April 2012. Archived from the original on 15 July 2012.
  17. ^ "Charlie Drake's Christmas Show". 26 December 1960. p. 25 – via BBC Genome.

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