Joy of Museums

Exploring Museums, Art & Historic Sites

Venus de’ Medici – Medici Venus

Venus de Medici

Venus de’ Medici – Medici Venus

The Venus de’ Medici or Medici Venus is a marble sculpture depicting the Greek goddess Aphrodite. It is a 1st-century BCE marble copy, made in Athens, of a bronze original Greek sculpture. 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.

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 Medici Venus is in the tradition of the Aphrodite of Knidos, which would have been made by a sculptor in the Praxitelean tradition. The origin of the Venus is undocumented and little is know of this masterpiece before the Renaissance. We do know that it was sent to Florence in 1677 by Innocent XI because it stimulated lewd behaviour for Rome. In the Tribuna of the Uffizi, it was a high point of the Grand Tour and was universally esteemed as one of the few great antique statues to have survived. Lord Byron devoted five stanzas of Childe Harold to describing it.

The Medici Venus was one of the precious works of art shipped to Palermo in 1800 to escape the French invasion by Napolean. It was however captured and moved to Paris in 1803 under Napoleon’s orders. After Napoleon’s fall, diplomatic pressure was brought to bear, and the Vénus de Medicis was returned back to Florence in 1815.

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

Venus de’ Medici

  • Name:             Venus de’ Medici or Medici Venus
  • Year:                1st-century BCE
  • Period:            Hellenistic
  • Museum:        Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

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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 Wai Laam Lo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons