15 Things You Should Know About 'Venus de Milo'

Bradley Weber, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Bradley Weber, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

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 handwhen 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.

Sightunseen, 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 asWinged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo's Slaves, were whisked away for safekeeping atvarious 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 thatboth 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."

Art

Wish You Could ‘Shazam’ a Piece of Art? With Magnus, You Can

Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images
Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images

While museum artworks are often accompanied by tidy little placards that tell you the basics—title, artist, year, medium, dimensions, etc.—that’s not always the standard for art galleries and fairs. For people who don’t love tracking down a staff member every time they’d like to know more about a particular work, there’s Magnus, a Shazam-like app that lets you snap a photo of an artwork and will then tell you the title, artist, last price, and more.

The New York Times reports that Magnus has a primarily crowdsourced database of more than 10 million art images. Though the idea of creating Shazam for art seems fairly straightforward, the execution has been relatively complex, partially because of the sheer quantity of art in the world. As founder Magnus Resch explained to The New York Times, “There is a lot more art in the world than there are songs.”

Structural diversity in art adds another challenge to the process: it’s difficult for image recognition technology to register 3D objects like sculptures, however famous they may be. Resch also has to dodge copyright violations; he maintains that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act applies to his app, since the photos are taken and shared by users, but he still has had to remove some content. All things considered, Magnus’s approximate match rate of 70 percent is pretty impressive.

Since the process of buying and selling art often includes negotiation and prices can fluctuate drastically, Magnus gives potential purchasers the background information they need to at least decide whether they’re interested in pursuing a particular piece. Just like browsing around a boutique where prices aren’t included on the items, a lack of transparency can be a deterrent for new customers.

Such was the case for Jelena Cohen, a Colgate-Palmolive brand manager who bought her first photograph with the help of Magnus. “I used to go to these art fairs, and I felt embarrassed or shy, because nothing’s listed,” she told The New York Times. “I loved that the app could scan a piece and give you the exact history of it, when it was last sold, and the price it was sold for. That helped me negotiate.” Through Magnus, you can also keep track of artworks you’ve scanned in your digital collection, search for artworks by artist, and share images to social media.

One thing Magnus can’t do, however, is tell you whether an artwork is authentic or not. The truth is that sometimes even art experts have trouble doing that, as evidenced by the long history of notorious art forgeries.

[h/t The New York Times]

'The Far Side' May Be Making a Comeback Online

tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus
tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus

For the first time ever, it’s looking increasingly likely that cartoonist Gary Larson’s "The Far Side" will be available in a medium other than book collections or page-a-day calendars. A (slightly ambiguous) announcement on the official "Far Side" website promises that “a new online era” for the strip is coming soon.

From 1980 to 1995, "The Far Side" presented a wonderfully irreverent universe in which hunters had much to fear from armed and verbose deer, cows possessed a rich internal life, scientific experiments often went awry, and irony became a central conceit. In one of the more famous strips frequently pasted to refrigerator doors, a small child could be seen pushing on a door marked “pull.” Above him was a sign marking the building as a school for the gifted. In another strip, a woman is depicted looking nervously around a forest while cradling a vacuum cleaner. The caption: “The woods were dark and foreboding, and Alice sensed that sinister eyes were watching her every step. Worst of all, she knew that Nature abhorred a vacuum.”

Unlike most of his contemporaries, like Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County") and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Larson has resisted reproduction of his work online. He famously circulated a letter to "Far Side" fan sites asking them to stop posting the single-panel strips, writing that the idea of his work being found on random websites was bothersome. “These cartoons are my ‘children,’ of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me,” he wrote.

Many obliged Larson, though the strip could still be found here and there. That he’s seemingly embracing a new method of distribution is good news for fans, but there’s no concrete evidence the now-retired cartoonist will be following in Breathed’s footsteps and producing new strips. ("Bloom County" returned as a Facebook comic in 2015.) The only indication of Larson’s active involvement is a new piece of art on the site’s landing page depicting some familiar "Far Side" characters being unthawed in a block of ice.

Larson’s comments on a return are few and far between. In 1998, he told The New York Times that going back to a strip was unlikely. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Never say never, but there’s a sense of ‘been there, done that.’” In that same profile, it was noted that 33 million "Far Side" books had been sold.

[h/t A.V. Club]

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