The Goddess of Love was depicted throughout the Graeco-Roman world as the embodiment of beauty, fertility and sensuality. Depicted in all scales and media, she has alluringly and universally encapsulated these principal aspects. Exemplifying the perfected nude female form, Venus has consistently captivated the viewer over the course of two and a half millennia.
In this enchanting petite marble sculpture, the goddess originally stood with her weight on her left leg, causing her left hip to thrust outward, thus enhancing her voluptuous feminine form. She has a slim waist, narrow shoulders and an elongated torso, which sensuously frame her small rounded breasts.
Venus’ pose, with the left hand lowered toward her pudendum and the right originally before her breasts, is the pervasive appearance the goddess assumes in classical art. It derives from a Greek original, likely Praxiteles’ Knidian Aphrodite. The position has come to be known as the Venus Pudica, indicating her perceived modesty. She is thought to be either preparing for or emerging from her bath. Many versions show the goddess completely nude, as here, while others incorporate different forms of drapery.
A statuette of this scale would likely have been part of the sculptural program of a private Roman villa. The proficiency of the carving, which exquisitely captures the fleshy naturalism of the female body, indicates that it was highly treasured already in antiquity. Venus was a favourite subject for private sculpture throughout the Roman world, for not only was she universally aesthetically appealing, but the inclusion of Venus in one’s personal collection could also indicate political affiliation. Julius Caesar claimed descent, and therefore divine ancestry from Venus, through the formidable hero Aeneas who was the goddess’ offspring and who was revered as the forebear of the Roman people through his son Iulus. Such a claim became central to the legitimization of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, and images of Venus and her circle abounded throughout early Imperial public art and beyond.
The rich surface patina and the fragmentary state of preservation of this lovely sculpture are accidents of time and space which further her allure. Her torso is left bare and exposed, openly presenting her splendid beauty, while genuinely displaying the scratches, incrustations and chips of centuries of admiration.
M. Bieber, Ancient Copies. Contributions to the History of Greek and Roman Art (New York, 1977).
A. Delivorrias, et al., ‘Aphrodite’ in Lexicon Iconographicum Mytholologiae Classicae, vol. II, (Zurich and Munich, 1984).
French Private Collection, 1960s-2005.
Private Collection, London, 2005-2015.