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The Finding of the Venus de Milo

60 second histories
by: Squaducation date: 06 Apr

8th April 1820

Little could Alexandros of Antioch have thought around 150BC that his statue would take on propaganda value nearly 2000 years later? In 1815 the French were forced to hand back the Medici Venus, then thought of as the finest piece of Greek classical sculpture, after Napoleon had looted it. The new statue,discovered five years later, was now proposed as the finest of its generation to recover some lost kudos. Not everyone agreed with this however with the painter Renoir calling it a “grand gendarme”. 

 

The statue was discovered by a peasant farmer, Yorgos Kentrotas, along with Olivier Voutier, a French Naval Officer, on the Greek island of Melos (Milo in modern Greek). They were digging in a ruin, thought to be a civic gymnasium when, within hours, they came across the statue in two parts. It got into the hands of Charles Francois de Riffardeau, later Marquis de Rivierethe French Ambassador to the Sublime Porte of the Ottoman Empire after it was later realised how important it was and payment was arranged to the Turks. It was then presented to Louis XVIII who gave it to the Louvre. Louis XVIII was the first experiment with constitutional democracy in France after the Revolution and perhaps felt obliged to act in this way.

 

Essentially in two blocks of marble it comprised of several parts sculptured separately, the bust, legs, left arm and foot it was then fixed with vertical pegs. Originally it was thought the statue would have worn jewellery – earrings, a bracelet and a headband. An original plinth which attributed the statue to Alexandros mysteriously disappeared when it appeared to disagree with the experts at the Louvre that it came from the Classical period and the well known sculptor Praxiteles, putting it in the less highly regarded Hellenistic period.

 

Most now agree that the statue, a representation of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty and love, was originally holding an apple as a representation of the judgement of Paris. Other options included a crown, a shield or a mirror. It is also quite possible that originally her left arm was resting on a pillar. The story of how the arms were lost is told in a number of different accounts when the statue was being taken from the island. One story goes that as the French were coming to collect it the statue that is 6 feet 8 inches tall, it had already been promised to the provincial Pasha, a high ranking officer in the Ottoman Empire. 1,000 Francs were paid to recover it and as it was too large to go into 1 boat to take it back to the ship the arms wee taken in another. This boat sank and the arms were never recovered from the sea. Another story says that the French soldiers dragged it across the rocks in their hurry to get it off the island and away from the chasing Greeks. The arms fell off and the French soldiers refused to go back and look for them. Others have argued that due to its origin on Melos it may be Amphitrite, the Greek goddess of the sea and not Aphrodite at all.

 

The harmony and aloofness of her face and the twisting figure and drapery give this piece an impression of nobility and serenity. The Louvre experts comment of the figure: The goddess is arrested in time, holding her legs together as the drapery slides over her hips. Her nudity contrasts with the effects of light and shade of the finely-detailed drapery.” 

 

The statue has inspired many others including Cézanne and Dali and has transfixed the millions who visit the Louvre in Paris every year. Many of the 9.7 million people, 15,000 a day, who visit the museum go to see the three great ladies – the Venus di Milo, Mona Lisa and the winged Victory of Samothrace, Nike, making the Louvre was the most visited museum in the world for the last six years beating its nearest rival, the British Museum by over one and a half million.

 

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