Joy of Museums

Exploring Museums, Art & Historic Sites

Venus de Milo

Front views of the Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

Aphrodite of Milos better known as the Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek statue over 2,000 years old, named after the Greek island of Milos, where it was discovered. It is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture and depicts Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The Roman name for Aphrodite is Venus, and this was the description used during the early publicity of this Greek masterpiece.

This masterpiece is in the classical depiction of the female form and a beautiful representation of the human body. Mythological tradition claims that Aphrodite was born naked in the sea foam off the coast of a Greek island, and Hellenistic sculptors leapt at this tradition to experiment with the naked female form. The Venus de Milo is the best-known example with its spiral composition and the fall of the drapery over the hips

Aphrodite is the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. She is identified with the planet Venus, which is the name of the Roman goddess Venus, who the Romans called their equivalent of the Greek goddesses, Aphrodite. The cult of Aphrodite was derived mainly from that of the Phoenician goddess Astarte, who was acquired from the East Semitic goddess Ishtar of Sumeria. In Homer’s Iliad, along with Athena and Hera, Aphrodite she was one of the three goddesses whose feud resulted in the Trojan War, and she plays a significant role throughout the Iliad. Aphrodite has been featured in western art as a symbol of female beauty and has appeared in numerous works of western literature.

The Aphrodite of Milos was discovered in 1820 by a peasant within the ancient city ruins of Milos, on the Greek island of Milos in the Aegean, which was then a part of the Ottoman Empire. The statue was found in two large pieces along with fragments of the upper left arm and left hand holding an apple, and an inscribed plinth. A French naval officer who was exploring the island learnt about “Venus de Milo”, and as the French officers recognised its significance, they arranged for its purchase by the French ambassador to Turkey.

The fame of the Venus de Milo increased during the nineteenth century as the result of a significant propaganda effort by the French authorities, who promoted the Venus de Milo as a superior classical sculpture to the Medici Venus. This debate was precipitated in 1815 when France had to return the Medici Venus to the Italians after it had been looted by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Medici Venus was regarded as one of the most beautiful classical sculptures in existence, which encouraged the French to promote the Venus de Milo as a more significant treasure than that which they recently had to surrender to the Italians. Additionally, the Aphrodite of Milos is renowned for the mystery of her missing arms that had been initially discovered in 1820.

Other Ancient Greek masterpieces featured in “Joy of Museums” include:

Aphrodite of Milos

  • Name:               Venus de Milo or Aphrodite of Milos
  • Greek:               Αφροδίτη της Μήλου
  • Artist:                Alexandros of Antioch
  • Year:                  130 – 100 BC
  • Material:           Marble
  • Dimensions:     203 cm (80 in)
  • Museum:            Louvre, Paris, France

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“To win glory, stepping into the chariot of honoured Nike (Victory): for to one man only does the goddess grant to jump into her great carriage.” Simonides

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Photo Credits:  1) By Livioandronico2013 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons