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Venus di Milo

Venus di Milo (Aphrodite found on Melos)

Modern plaster replica of the Greek marble original of ca. 150 BCE now located in the Louvre Museum, Paris. The cast was made in London by D. Brucciani & Co. (founded by Domenico Brucciani in 1864) according to a large metal plate in the front of the base; a number (2377) incised or stamped in the upper left corner of the front of the base may refer to a Brucciani catalogue number or to a production number (cf. the "Germanicus"; a similar Venus cast is in the University of Denver Art Collections with the number 1255). The cast was purchased by Professor Wilcox in 1885 -- it is one of the five original casts when the collection was dedicated in 1888.

The statue was discovered in a gymnasium belonging to the city of Melos on the island of Melos (April 8, 1820). Aphrodite had been placed in a niche or alcove (her back was left unfinished); she therefore was not a cult statue. Found with her was the base inscribed "]andros son of Ênidos of Antioch on the Meander" (the first part of the name is not preserved, but was probably Alexandros or Agesandros).

When French archaeologists purchased the statue from the Greek authorities of the island, they donated it to Louis XVIII who placed it in the Louvre. At first, French art historians were convinced the statue was classical (4th century BCE, perhaps by the great sculptor Praxiteles), but after the base was published, it was clear that, since Antioch on the Meander (southwest Turkey) was founded at the end of the 4th century, the statue was instead Hellenistic -- the base subsequently went missing. Even though the French art establishment was shocked by this revelation, the piece has enjoyed enormous popularity.

The once surviving base also included a short piller which would have supported her lowered left arm -- very likely her left hand held an apple, appropriate to Aprhodite since she won the gold apple left "for the fairest goddess of them all" and also because "mêlon," the Greek word for apple, is also a pun on the name of the island, "Melos."

The original statue is in two blocks of marble, the toros and head separate from the legs swathed in drapery. The cast is also in two parts with an added short piece across the front of the base to supply a restored left foot (not extant in the original).

The piece represents a mature version of the goddess of love and beauty, in the open or centrifugal pose known in other works of the second half of the 2nd century BCE. Her right hand reaches down to gather her slipping drapery; her left arm rested on a pillar and in her left hand she probably held an apple (see above).

A legend has it that the arms of the Venus were lost in the harbor at Melos when the statue was being hoisted aboard ship. A Greek-American from Milwaukee mounted an underwater expedition in the harbor in the hope of restoring the arms to his native island's main claim to fame, but, though a hand holding an apple was recovered, it was too small to have belonged to this Venus.

 

Select Bibliography: Venus di Milo
  • Bieber, M. 1961. The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age (New York) 159-60, figs. 673-75.
  • Claridge, A. 1988. "Ancient Techniques of Making Joins in Marble Statuary" in Marble: Art Historical Techniques and Scientific Perspectives on Ancient Sculpture (Malibu) 135-62, esp. 146.
  • Curtis, Gregory,  Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo . New York 2003.
  • Hornblower, S., and Spawforth, A. (eds.) 1996. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford) 120 (Aphrodite). [abbreviated OCD]
  • Kaltsas, N. 2002. Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (Los Angeles) 290-91 no. 611 (Poseidon of Melos).
  • LIMC  II.1.2-176 (Aphrodite/Venus).  [LIMC = Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, a comprehensive myth and art encyclopedia: a copy is available in the reference section of Spencer Art & Architecture Library at KU]
  • Lullies, R., and M. Hirmer. 1961. Greek Sculpture (New York) pls. 254, 255.
  • Maggidis, C. 1999. "The Aphrodite and Poseidon of Melos: A Comparative Study," Acta Archaeologica 70.
  • Pasquier, A. 1985. La Vénus du Milo et les Aphrodites du Louvre (Paris).
  • Pollitt, J.J. 1986. Art in the Hellenistic Age (Cambridge) 167, 168 fig. 92.
  • Ridgway, B.S. 1990. Hellenistic Sculpture  II. The Styles of ca. 200-100 BCE.  (Madison) 167-71, 170 fig. 21, pl. 58.
  • Smith, R.R.R. 1991. Hellenistic Sculpture (Oxford/New York) 65, 81, 242, figs. 305.1-2.

Featured item:

 

3D Model of Duck-Cup. The Wilcox Museum’s website is now offering three-dimensional digital models of several objects in the collection. See our new 3D Imaging page under "The Collection" tab!  

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