Little Bits of History

Venus de Milo

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 8, 2013
Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

April 8, 1820: A French ensign goes hunting for treasure. The French schooner, Estafette, was sailing in the Aegean Sea. Olivier Voutier, 23, was interested in history and when the ship stopped at a small island (Melos), he and two sailors went in search of artifacts. As they dug among the ruins of an ancient theater, they found some marble fragments and pieces of statuary. Nearby, a local farmer was digging for rocks to use in a wall he was building. The farmer dug into a concealed niche and was disgusted to find unusable rock.

Voutier went to see what the farmer had found. There in the gloom, stained and nicked, was part of a statue – the upper half of a nude woman. There was a hole in the right side from some earlier restoration work. Her hair was chipped and the tip of her nose was missing. Even so, she was stunning. Voutier paid the farmer to keep digging in the hope of finding the bottom half of the statue. When the legs seemingly draped in wet fabric were found, the two pieces did not fit together. A third smaller piece was still missing. Digging continued and it was found.

The statue, while not quite complete, was gorgeous. The drapery covering her legs was falling from her hips. Voutier brought several people to see her. Eventually the Marquis de Rivieve bought the statue and had a ship come to the island to take her back to France. The statue was presented to King Louis XVII who in turn donated her to an art museum. And that is how the Venus de Milo finally got to the Louvre.

The Greek goddess was called Aphrodite but her Roman name was Venus. She was the goddess of love and beauty, born from the sea. Stylistic details date her from the Hellenistic period around 130 BC – 100 BC. The missing arms were never found. Evidence shows the right arm was lowered across the torso with her hand resting on her left knee. The knee is slightly raised and her hand would have seemed to hold the slipping drapery in place. The left arm was held outstretched and the hand held an apple. The ancient Greeks would have tinted the statue and adorned her with jewelry. No color remains and only the supporting holes for the jewelry give testimony to her previous bejeweled state.

“There’s only one woman I know of who could never be a symphony conductor, and that’s the Venus de Milo.” – Margaret Hillis

“Adding sound to movies would be like putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo.” – Mary Pickford

“Even if you gods, and all the goddesses too, should be looking on, yet would I be glad to sleep with golden Aphrodite.” – Homer

“When one is twenty yes, but at forty-seven, Venus may rise from the sea, and I for one should hardly put on my spectacles to have a look.” – William Makepeace Thackeray

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Venus de Milo or Aphrodite of Milos is slightly larger than life. She stands 6 feet 8 inches tall. There was an inscription on the plinth where she was found which leads some to believe she is the work of Alexandros of Antioch. The plinth is now lost due to some intrigue or politics within the Louvre. Originally thought to be the work of Praxiteles of Attica, the inscription on the now missing plinth refuted that claim. Alexandros seems to have been a wandering artist who worked on commission and also, according to other inscriptions found in Thespiae, an accomplished singer and composer able to win contests in these arts, too. He is believed to be the artist who created a statue of Alexander the Great which is also displayed at the Louvre. This statue was found on the island of Delos.

Also on this day: Punch Without Judy – In 1992 the last issue of Punch magazine hits the newsstands.
 Winchester Cathedral – In 1093, the new Winchester Cathedral was dedicated.
Working Class – In 1935, the WPA was created.

One Response

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  1. History Kicks Ass said, on April 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    An interesting history of this beautiful artefact. Thank you so much for the information. This quote floored me: “The farmer dug into a concealed niche and was disgusted to find unusable rock” – one’s man’s junk is another man’s treasure. 🙂

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