CM: This is the head of the Venus de Milo, one of the most famous statues of ancient Greek sculpture. It is believed to depict Aphrodite (called "Venus" by the Romans), the Greek goddess of love and beauty. It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life, at 203 cm high, but without its arms and its original plinth. From an inscription on its now-lost plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros, son of Menides, from Antioch-on-the-Meander.
The Venus de Milo dates to about 130 BC. Despite this relatively late date, its composition is classicising; a mixture of earlier styles from the Classical period an the new Hellenistic influences demonstrated by a higher waist, a twisting S-spiral throughout the body and low slung drapery. It is not known exactly what aspect of Venus the statue originally depicted. It is generally thought to have been a representation of Venus Victrix holding the golden apple presented to her by Paris of Troy. This would also have served as a pun on the name of the island Milos, which means 'apple' in the Greek language. A fragment of a forearm and hand with an apple were found near the statue and are thought to be remnants of its arms. After the statue was found, numerous attempts were made to reconstruct its pose, though it was never restored.
The statue was found in two pieces in 1820 on the Aegean island of Milo, (Melos in English), by a peasant named Yorgos Kentrotas. He hid it from the authorities but was later discovered by Turkish officials, who seized the sculpture. A French naval officer, Jules Dumont d'Urville, recognized its significance and arranged for a purchase by the French ambassador to Turkey, the Marquis de Riviere. After some repair work, the statue was presented to King Louis XVIII in 1821. He eventually presented it to the Louvre museum in Paris, where it still stands on public display.
The statue's great fame in the 19th century was not simply the result of its admitted beauty, but also owed much to a major propaganda effort by the French authorities. In 1815 France had returned the Medici Venus, to the Italians after it had been previously looted from Italy by Napoleon Bonaparte. Regarded as one of the finest Classical sculptures in existence caused the French to consciously promote the Venus de Milo as a greater treasure than that which they had recently lost. It was duly praised by artists and critics, who regarded it as the epitome of graceful female beauty. Auguste Rodin wrote his hymn À la Vénus de Milo in 1910 (To the Venus de Milo, 1912). It is worth noting however that Pierre-Auguste Renoir was clearly not following the script when he dismissed the Venus de Milo as a "big gendarme".
[Megakles Rogakos 04/2006]
PIPER, DAVID A-Z of Art & Artists 1984 Mitchell Beazley Publishers, London, p.12