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Work Aphrodite ("Venus Genitrix")

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This statue - one of the most remarkable Roman copies of a Greek bronze created by Callimachus in the late fifth century BC - was the jewel of Louis XIV's collection of antiquities. The Romans, anxious to highlight their connection with the goddess, gave this figure of Aphrodite the name "Venus Genitrix" or "Mother Venus". The figure of the goddess is both sensual and humane; her clinging robe serves to highlight the contours of her body.

A copy of an original by Callimachus

This work, originally in the collection of Louis XIV, is one of the finest Roman copies of a Greek bronze statue created circa 400 BC by the Athenian sculptor and jeweler Callimachus. In order to emphasize their divine ancestry, the Roman emperors referred to the Greek goddess Aphrodite as "genitrix" ("mother") and used her Latin name, Venus. Here, she is shown holding the edge of her garment, which reveals rather than conceals her body. In her other hand is the golden apple presented by Paris after he had judged her to be the most beautiful goddess. The apple is a modern addition, but it matches many smaller antique copies made in terracotta and bronze.

A Classical work in a mannerist style

This piece is an excellent example of the mannerist style of late fifth-century Classical sculpture in Athens. Callimachus has succeeded in endowing the face with both grace and austerity, and the result is reminiscent of works by Phidias. The sculptor has retained the contrapposto stance (in which the hips and shoulders are slightly turned in opposite directions), as invented by Polykleitos in the mid-fifth century BC. The undraped shoulder and breast magnify the sensuality of the goddess's curves, visible through her tunic. The sculptor's virtuoso handling of the surface recreates the effect of an apparently wet garment, revealing rather than concealing the nude body beneath.

A new sensitivity in representations of women

The late fifth century was marked by the horrors of the Peloponnesian War, which provoked a genuine crisis of conscience in Athenian society. Nevertheless, it was a time of new sensitivity towards women, and their depiction in art. In the realm of literature, this manifested itself in the heroines of Euripides and the comic feminism of Aristophanes. In the plastic arts, the trend is evident in vase paintings, and in the sensuality of partially-draped statues of Aphrodite.

Bibliography

Pasquier (A.), La Vénus de Milo et les Aphrodites du Louvre, Paris, 1985, p. 52, fig.

Technical description

  • Aphrodite ("Venus Genitrix")

    Roman Imperial copy (late first-early second century AD) after a Greek original.

    Naples (?); Fréjus (?)

  • Parian marble, sculpted in the round, traces of additional elements (earrings)

    H. 1.64 m

  • French Royal collection. Confiscated 1803.

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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