A Naked Woman You’re Allowed to Stare At (ca. 130-190 BC)

By: The Scribe on Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Venus de Milo, one of the most famous pieces of Greek sculpture.]As one of the most famous and identifiable pieces of sculpture in the world, the Venus de Milo would be hardly recognizable if restored to her original state. She was created from a block of marble by a relatively unknown wandering artist by the name of Alexandros of Antioch, identified from an inscription that was once part of the statue’s plinth – reversing the previous belief that credited the famous Athenian Praxiteles for the work.

The Venus de Milo is a depiction of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, created slightly larger than a life-sized human at 203 centimeters high. She was sculpted using a combination of Greek sculptural styles: although created during the Hellenistic period where there was a focus on realism, her mask-like face and perfect proportions are reminiscent of the idealistic Classical era.

Although her arms and most of the original base have been lost, disallowing any certain knowledge of what the statue was actually meant to depict when it was created, there is speculation that it was meant to be a representation of Aphrodite holding the golden apple that was presented to her by Paris of Troy from the well-known story of the Trojan War. If this was the case, it would have also been a pun on the island’s name – Milos – which meant ‘apple’ in ancient Greek. There were several fragments of a left arm, left hand, and what seems to be an apple found near where the statue was buried, which are thought to be parts of the original arms.

Front view of the Venus de Milo in the Louvre

What most people do not realize when looking at the Venus de Milo is how she would have appeared in ancient times – the image would have been far, far from the creamy white marble that remains today. Instead, the statue would have been painted in a gaudy display of red, yellow, blue, green, and any other color that could have possibly been created at the time. Not only that, but she would have been covered in jewelry and situated inside a wall niche, probably at a gymnasium.

This was standard practice for Greek statues, and was actually meant to help them appear more lifelike and appealing! Of course, all the jewelry has been long lost – but the evidence for their existence remains in the small, drilled attachment holes on the statue’s ears, wrists, neckline, and at the top of the head.

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Tomorrow: All hail the sacred bean!


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