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15 Things You Should Know About 'Venus de Milo'

For much of the world, the mystery of the Venus de Milo lies in her missing arms. But there's much more to this iconic statue than a couple of absent appendages. 

1. Venus de Milo's title is a bit misleading. 

It's popularly believed that this Grecian statue depicts the Greek Goddess of love and beauty, who was often rendered half-naked. However, the Greeks would have called this deity Aphrodite. Nonetheless, the Roman-inspired Venus de Milo caught on. 

2. She's named in part for where she was discovered. 

On April 8, 1820, a farmer named Yorgos Kentrotas came across the statue in pieces within the ruins of an ancient city on the island of Milos (formerly known as Melos). 

3. Alexandros of Antioch is credited with her creation.

A sculptor of the Hellenistic period, Alexandros is believed to have carved this masterpiece between 130 and 100 BCE. The inscription on the plinth—the slab on which the statue rested—that identified him as Venus de Milo's creator was lost nearly 200 years ago. 

4. She might not be Venus. 

Some have suggested the sculpture is not Aphrodite/Venus, but Amphitrite, the sea goddess who was particularly adored on Milos. Still others have proposed she's Victory, or perhaps a prostitute. With her arms long missing, would-be context clues have been lost for centuries. A spear could have meant one thing, a spool of thread another. If she held an apple—as some reports claim—it could mean she was Aphrodite, holding the award given to her by Paris before the Trojan War began. To this day, it's a matter of passionate debate

5. She became a gift to the King of France. 

When Kentrotas called upon a French naval officer to help him unearth the spectacular sculpture, he began a chain of events that would eventually lead to the Marquis de Rivière presenting Venus de Milo to Louis XVIII. In turn, the ruler gave the statue to the Louvre, where it is on display to this very day. 

6. The loss of her limbs is the fault of the French. 

Kentrotas did find fragments of an arm and a hand when he uncovered the statue in the ruins, but as Venus de Milo was being reassembled, those arms were discarded for having a "rougher" appearance. Modern art historians believe that the variation of finish does not mean those arms did not belong to Venus, but both the arms and the original plinth have been lost since the piece moved to Paris in 1820. 

7. The original plinth was ditched on purpose.

Sight unseen, early 19th century art historians decided the newly discovered Venus must have been the work of Greek artist Praxiteles, and publicized the work as such. This attribution would have placed the piece in the Classical period (5th through 4th centuries BCE), which was more respected artistically than the Hellenistic period. To save face and better promote Venus de Milo—even at the cost of misinforming the public—the plinth was removed before it was presented to the King. 

8. Venus de Milo was meant to make up for a national embarrassment. 

During his conquests, Napoleon Bonaparte had plundered one of the finest examples of Greek sculpture, Venus de' Medici, from Italy. In 1815, the French government returned that beloved sculpture, but in 1820, France embraced the chance to fill the hole its absence left in the French culture and national pride. As such, Venus de Milo was promoted as being even greater than Venus de' Medici upon her Louvre debut. The ploy worked, and the piece was met with almost universal praise from artists and critics.

9. Renoir was not impressed. 

Perhaps the most famous of Venus de Milo's detractors, the celebrated Impressionist painter dismissed this delicate depiction of grace and female beauty as "a big gendarme."

10. She went into hiding during World War II.

By the autumn of 1939, war threatened to descend on Paris, so Venus de Milo along with some other priceless pieces, such as Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo's Slaves, were whisked away for safekeeping at various châteaux in the French countryside.

11. She's been robbed! 

Venus is missing more than just her arms. She was originally draped in jewelry including a bracelet, earrings and a headband. These flourishes are long lost, but the holes for fixing them to the piece remain in the marble, giving clues to the missing accessories.

12. She lost her color. 

While it’s easy for today’s art admirers to think of Greek statues as white, the marble was often painted in the style of polychromy. However, no trace of the original paint scheme remains on Venus de Milo today.

13. She's taller than most people. 

Even with her slight slouch, Venus de Milo stands at 6 feet 8 inches tall

14. She could be a copy.

Art historians have noted that Venus de Milo bears a striking resemblance to Aphrodite of Capua, which is a Roman era copy of a possibly late 4th century BCE bronze Greek original. That would be at least 170 years before Alexandros carved his goddess, leading some to speculate that both statues are actually replicas of an older statue.

15. Today she's admired for her imperfection. 

The missing arms of Venus de Milo have been so much more than the source of numerous art historian lectures, debates, and essays. Their absence has also been an accidental invitation to the world to imagine how they might be positioned, what they might hold, and who this would make her. Unexpectedly, her missing arms are what lend the statue her beauty. 

In 2015, The Guardian's Jonathan Jones explained the piece's appeal thusly, "The Venus de Milo is an accidental surrealist masterpiece. Her lack of arms makes her strange and dreamlike. She is perfect but imperfect, beautiful but broken—the body as a ruin. That sense of enigmatic incompleteness has transformed an ancient work of art into a modern one."

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The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
iStock
iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Tessa Angus
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Surprising Sculptures Made From Fallen Feathers
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor with an unusual medium: feathers. Her surreal, undulating works often take the form of installations—the feathers spilling out of a drain, a stove, a crypt wall—or stand-alone sculptures in which antique bell jars, cabinets, or trunks contain otherworldly shapes.

MccGwire developed her obsession with feathers after moving to a studio barge on the Thames in 2006, as she explains in a video from Crane.tv recently spotlighted by Boing Boing. The barge was near a large shed full of feral pigeons, whose feathers she would spot on her way to work. "I started picking them up and laying them out, collecting them," she remembers. "And after about two weeks I had like 300 feathers." At the time, concerns about bird flu were rife, which made the feathers seem "dangerous as well as beautiful."

When not supplied by her own next-door menagerie, the feathers for her artwork come from a network of racing pigeon societies all over the UK, who send her envelopes full every time the birds molt. Farmers and gamekeepers also send her fallen feathers from birds such as magpies, pheasants, and roosters.

The cultural associations around birds are a big part of what inspires MccGwire. “The dove is the symbol of peace, purity, and fertility," she told ArtNews in 2013, "but it’s exactly the same species as a pigeon—which everyone regards as being dirty, foul, a pest.”

The same duality is present in her own work, which she frequently shares on her Instagram account. “I want to seduce by what I do—but revolt in equal measure. It’s really important to me that you’ve got that rejection of things you think you know for sure.”

You can see some pictures of MccGwire's work, and watch the video from Crane.tv, below.

Kate MccGwire's installation "Evacuate"
Evacuate, 2010
J Wilde

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Convolous"
Convolous, 2015
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's installation "Gyre"
Gyre, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Gag"
Gag, 2009
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Writhe"
Writhe, 2010
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Quell"
Quell, 2011
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Taunt"
Taunt, 2012
Tessa Angus

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