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Characteristics and Analysis of the Venus de Milo
The statue is made from Parian marble and stands some 6 feet 8 inches tall, without its plinth. It is thought to portray Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of physical love and beauty. (The Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus.) According to restoration experts, the sculpture was carved from essentially two blocks of Parian marble, and is made up of several parts which were sculpted separately before being fixed with vertical pegs. Tragically, the statue's arms and original base, or plinth, have been lost almost since the work's arrival in Paris, in 1820. This was partly due to errors of identification, because when the statue was originally reassembled, the accompanying fragments of the left hand and arm were not believed to belong to it due to their altogether 'rougher' appearance. Today, however, experts are confident that these additional pieces were part of the original statue, despite the variation in finish, since it was common practice at the time to devote less effort to less visible parts of a sculpture. (The arm involved, being above eye-level, would typically be invisible to the casual spectator.)
Sculpture reconstruction experts calculate that the separately carved right arm of the Venus de Milo lay across the torso with the right hand resting on the raised left knee, thus clasping the drapery wrapped around the hips and legs. The left arm, meanwhile, was holding up the apple at about eye level. Scholars remain divided as to whether the goddess was looking at the apple she was holding, or gazing into the distance.
In its original state, the sculpture would have been tinted with colour pigments, to create a more lifelike appearance, then decorated with bracelet, earrings, and headband, before being placed in a niche inside a temple or gymnasium. Today, however, no trace any paint remains, while the only signs of any metal jewellery are the fixture holes.
Although influenced by elements taken from High Classical Greek Sculpture (c.450-400 BCE) as well as Late Classical Greek Sculpture (c.400-323 BCE) - the aloofness and impassivity of the head, for instance, derives from the 5th century BCE - the Venus de Milo makes use of creative innovations from the 3rd-1st century BCE, known as Hellenism. First, note the contrast between the smooth nude flesh of the torso and the ruffled texture of the drapery covering the legs. Second, note the the spiral composition - that is, the slight turn of the body - from the hips to the shoulder - combined with the outward thrust of the right hip, resulting in a fascinating S-shaped pose. Thirdly, note the relatively small size of the torso. Finally, there is an inescapable hint of erotic tension caused by the drapery which threatens to slip off entirely. These four stylistic features were all developed during the late Hellenistic period. Hence, overall, the work is seen as a subtle combination of earlier and later styles.
According to most experts, the Venus de Milo depicts the mythological Greek goddess Aphrodite, and the story of the Judgment of Paris. In this tale, a young Trojan prince, Paris, was given a golden apple by the goddess of Discord and told to award it to the most beautiful of the three candidates: Aphrodite, Athena and Hera. Aphrodite won the beauty contest by bribing Paris with the love of the most beautiful mortal woman - Helen of Sparta - and was awarded the apple.
Enduring Beauty and Mystery
During the 19th-century, the Venus de Milo was often eulogized by a number of art critics as one of the great treasures of Greek art: one representing the epitome of female beauty and aesthetics - not least, because of its remarkable fusion of grandeur and grace. Although times and tastes change - limbless Greek statues are not venerated with quite such enthusiasm in the 21st century - the goddess retains much of its mystery. Although she is believed to represent Aphrodite, because of her sensual, feminine curves, she might alternatively be the sea goddess Amphitrite, who was worshipped on the island of Milo at the time. Indeed, according to the Louvre, given its resemblance to the Aphrodite of Capua (National Archeological Museum, Naples), it may even be a Roman replica of an original Greek sculpture from the late 4th century.
Hellenistic sculptures like the Venus de Milo can be seen in some of the best art museums and sculpture gardens around the world, notably the Louvre in Paris, the Capodimonte Museum Naples, the Vatican Museums in Rome, and the J Paul Getty Centre in Los Angeles.
For biographical details about other sculptors from ancient Greece, and their achievements in plastic art of the day, see the following:
Phidias (c.488-431 BCE)
Leading sculptor of the High Classical period.
Myron (Active 480-444 BCE)
Famous for his masterpiece, The Discus-Thrower.
Polykleitos (5th century BCE)
Classical sculptor noted for the Kanon of Polykleitos.
Callimachus (Active 432-408 BCE)
Imaginative 5th-century plastic artist and architect.
Skopas (Active 395-350 BCE)
One of the three major Late Classical sculptors.
Lysippos (c.395-305 BCE)
Court sculptor to Alexander the Great.
Leochares (Active 340-320 BCE)
Important early Hellenistic sculptor.
Other Famous Marble Statues
- Il Zuccone (142335) Florence. By Donatello.
- Pieta (1497-9) Saint Peters Basilica. By Michelangelo.
- David by Michelangelo (1501-4) Academy of Arts Gallery, Florence.
- Dying Slave (1513-16) Louvre. By Michelangelo.
- Tomb of Pope Julius II (1505-45) Rome. By Michelangelo.
- Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583) Florence.
- Pluto and Proserpina (1621-2) Galleria Borghese, Rome. By Bernini.
- The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52) Capella Cornaro. By Bernini.
- Apollo (1715) State Art Collection, Dresden. By Balthasar Permoser.
- "The Marly Horse" (1739-45) Louvre. By Guillaume Coustou.
- Apollo Crowning Himself (1781) Getty Museum, LA. By Antonio Canova.
- Psyche Awakened by Eros (1787-93) Louvre. By Antonio Canova.
- The Kiss (1888-9) Paris. By Auguste Rodin.