History

One of the most famous examples of sculpture from Ancient Greece, the Venus de Milo is an armless marble statue of Aphrodite - the Greek goddess of love and beauty - which was sculpted during the Hellenistic period between about 130 and 100 BCE. A little larger than life size, it is believed to be the work of the sculptor Alexandros of Antioch, after an inscription on its plinth (now lost). This graceful figure of a goddess has fascinated art lovers for almost two centuries, ever since its discovery, in 1820, on the small Greek island of Melos in the Aegean.

The Venus de Milo was unearthed on the Greek island of Melos (Milos), one of the southwestern Cyclades group. It was found in a field by a young farmer called Yorgos Kentrotas, buried in a wall niche within the ruins of the ancient city of Milos. The stone sculpture was in two main pieces: (1) the upper torso, and (2) the legs, covered in drapery. Several other sculptural fragments were discovered close by, including a separate left arm (and hand) holding an apple, and an inscribed plinth with a clear reference to a sculptor called "...sandros from Anchiochia on the Meander".

The farmer was assisted in his recovery of the statue by Olivier Voutier, a French naval officer from the French fleet anchored nearby. As news spread of the find, a second French officer, Jules Dumont d'Urville, notified the French Consul to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople Charles-Francois de Riffardeau, Marquis de Riviere. It arrived in France in 1821 and was presented to Louis XVIII, who donated it to the Louvre Museum, where it remains today.

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.