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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical 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.

Nude Art

The nude figure is a tradition in Western Art and has been used to express the ideals of beauty and or other specific human qualities. Ancient Greek Art is unique for its development of naturalistic and idealised depictions of the human body, in which mainly the nude male figures were the focus of artistic innovation.

During the Middle Ages, the Christian emphasis on chastity and celibacy discouraged depictions of nakedness, and the Greco-Roman nudes were transformed into symbols of shame and sin, weakness and defenselessness. Completely unclothed figures were rare in medieval art, except with the notable exceptions being Adam and Eve and the damned in Last Judgement scenes.

The rediscovery of classical culture during the Renaissance restored the nude to art. Donatello in the 1440s with his statue of the Biblical hero David made the first freestanding nude statue since antiquity. In 1504, Michelangelo completed his massive David, followed by the nudes paintings in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling to re-established a tradition of male nudes in depictions of Biblical stories. The female nude returned to Western art in 1486 with “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, who adopted the pose of this classical statue of Venus de’ Medici.

Exploring Ancient Greek Art

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

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