Friday, August 27, 2010

Her body, muscular and almost masculine, bathed in light...

The Venus de Milo brings a smile to the Louvre

According to legend, Venus - known to the Greeks as Aphrodite - was born from the foam of the sea as she emerged from bathing off the coast of Cyprus. Be that as it may, the goddess of love serves as the model for the canon of beauty, an ideal epitomised in the Louvre's Venus de Milo.

The famous statue has just been restored, which comes as a pleasant surprise to the six million people (out of a total of eight million) who visit the Louvre each year with the stated aim of admiring the Venus de Milo together with the museum's two other jewels, Leonardo de Vinci's Mona Lisa and the Victory of Samothrace. The Venus, sculpted from white marble from Paros circa 120 BC, was found in 1820 by a peasant on the Greek island of Milos in the Cyclades and was given to the Louvre by King Louis XVIII in 1821.

This summer, the statue is radiating good health.  Her body, muscular and almost masculine, bathed in the light streaming in from the south-facing windows, has recovered the milky lustre of its origins. So, too, its energy and aura next to the gods and goddesses who surround it, Athena, Apollo, Hermes, Dionysus and others - Roman copies of lost Greek chefs d'oeuvres.

The smile that plays across her left cheek, almost teasing, contrasts sharply with the serious look sketched across her right side. The subtle folds of her toga, which could easily be made of real linen, fall to her hips and reveal a perfect bust.

Positioned in the centre of a carpet of red marble and mounted on a plinth (it is possible to walk all the way around her and view her from all angles), the Venus de Milo, six-and-a-half feet tall, stands sentinel over the 2,000 square feet of former royal apartments as they stretch towards the caryatids gallery.  She is the crowning feature of a new museum lay-out devoted to classical Greek and Hellenistic art (450-30 BC) devised by Jean-Luc Martinez (director of the Louvre's department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities) as a three-dimensional walk amongst the works of art.

Where are her arms?

At the head of the world's foremost museum of Greek art, totalling more than 45,000 objects, Jean-Luc Martinez has for the first time put on display works taken from the museum's reserve holdings or dispersed in other departments (ceramics, jewellery, numismatics, furniture). From now on these will be presented by geographic region to showcase the world of the Greek Mediterranean.

As for the Venus de Milo, she has once more found the place that she occupied from 1824 to 1848.  Since she first entered the Louvre, she has never ceased to be moved about. In the 1820s, following a controversy, it was decided not to attach the missing arms that had been sculpted for the occasion. Only her nose, left foot and big toe were re-attached.

"Whilst removing the old restoration work we noticed that the surface had been prepared for a marble adjunct that was never finished", indicates Monsieur Martinez. In 2009-2010 a scientific study brought to light the alterations and repairs that have been undertaken over two centuries.  It was decided to keep her nose, but not her foot. Fragments of marble are displayed around the goddess, including an outsized hand, which nourish the enigma... her arms are still unaccounted for.

This article first appeared in Le Monde, August 20 2010; it was translated from the French by Culturissima's managing director, Dr David Winter.

1 comment:

  1. Just been to see her - fantastic... and crowd free this long weekend (except for the Bank Holiday Brits).