Photo by Matthew Girling; CC BY-SA
This graceful statue of a goddess has intrigued and fascinated since its discovery on the island of Melos in 1820. Is it Aphrodite, who was often portrayed half-naked, or the sea goddess Amphitrite, who was venerated on Milo? The statue reflects sculptural research during the late Hellenistic Period: classical in essence, with innovatory features such as the spiral composition, the positioning in space, and the fall of the drapery over the hips.
The discovery of a mutilated masterpiece
The Venus de Milo was discovered in 1820 on the island of Melos (Milo in modern Greek) in the south-western Cyclades. The Marquis de Rivière presented it to Louis XVIII, who donated it to the Louvre the following year. The statue won instant and lasting fame. Essentially two blocks of marble, it is comprised of several parts which were sculpted separately (bust, legs, left arm and foot) then fixed with vertical pegs, a technique which was fairly common in the Greek world (especially in the Cyclades, where this work was produced around 100 BC). The goddess originally wore metal jewelry — bracelet, earrings, and headband — of which only the fixation holes remain. The marble may have been embellished with (now faded) polychromy. The arms were never found.
A mysterious goddess with neither name nor attributes
The goddess is shrouded in mystery, her attitude a persistent enigma. The missing pieces of marble and absence of attributes made the restoration and identification of the statue difficult. A whole range of positions have been suggested: leaning against a pillar, resting her elbow on Ares’ shoulder, or holding a variety of attributes. According to whether she held a bow or an amphora, she was Artemis or a Danaid. She is popularly thought to represent Aphrodite, because of her half-nakedness and her sensual, feminine curves. She may have held an apple — an allusion to the Judgement of Paris — a crown, a shield, or a mirror in which she admired her reflection. However she might also be the sea goddess Amphitrite, who was venerated on the island of Milo.