1. The discovery of the Venus de Milo
This statue has been discovered during the spring of the year 1820 in the city of Mélos (or Milo) located in the Cyclades, in Greece. It was discovered by a farmer, the man was looking to build a wall around his land and found a sort of crypt when digging the foundations. Inside this vault was an absolute beauty of a statue, with the face of a woman, a naked bust, a right hand holding onto a clothing and a left-arm bent and raised up.
The farmer and his son took the fragment of marble home to hide them. After that, French sailors that were passing by the island heard about this discovery. They went to the farmer’s house to admire the statue and went back quickly to Constantinople to inform the French ambassador about its existence. The ambassador’s secretary was sent to the island a month later with one task and one task only: to bring back the statue at any cost! But the man ran into Turkish sailors carrying the beautiful Venus. There was a long fight and the secretary managed to get the statue back but damaged. French sailors brought back the different pieces but seem to have forgotten its arm…
2. God of love and beauty
Back in France, the statue is offered by the ambassador of France to the king Louis XVIII who chooses to expose it in the Louvre in 1821. Back then, many were the visitors of the Louvre to wonder why its arm was missing and many guesses were made. The silence was kept on how the statue got in the hands of the French, indeed, it was unnecessary to trigger a diplomatic incident… A French ambassador in Greece called Jules Ferry tried to solve the mystery around the year of 1872 and traveled to the Cyclades. He managed to find the farmer’s son who made it clear that the last time he had seen the statue, it was a whole. He also confirmed that it was the French that took the statue by force.
Representing Aphrodite, the Greek god of love, Venus to the Romans, she could also be Amphitrite, the god of the sea that used to be worshiped in the island of Milo. Archeologists date the statue to the 120 B.C. It is made of two blocks: legs on one part, chest, and head on the other. Hols in the arms proves that she was wearing jewelry: a bracelet, earrings, and a headband.
Feminine and sensual, her legs are covered with drapery, her chest is naked. She has a thin face, hair that is neatly pulled back. Prosper Mérimée said, talking about her in the Venus d’Ille: “I have never seen anything that pretty”.
3. A copy?
The statue has often been considered as a copy inspired by an original form the end of the fourth century B.C. The venus has something from the classical tradition, from the harmony of her features to the look of indifference on her face. Her hairstyle has something from the creations of Praxitèle, a sculptor from the fourth century B.C.
4. The island of Milo wants it back
Back in 2017, a campaign started on the island of Milo to bring back the statue. “Aphrodite is an emigrant. It is time for her to come home” said Zampeta Tourlou, mayor of the island at the time. He also for everyone in Greece to relay his message, saying that the statue needed to come back on the island. The Island only possesses a copy of the statue and hope to get the original back. If it happens in the near future that means the Venus would have been away for approximately 200 years.
5. The statue was hidden during World War 2
In 1938, fear of the war and the bombings led to a big moving operation of various pieces of art that belonged to National Museums. The Louvre made no exception. If some of the pieces left the museum in September 1938, the decision to evacuate the most precious pieces of art was taken on the 3rd of September 1939. More than 3690 paintings and many many sculptures and art objects were transported in various places (castles, abbeys) and kept a secret. For example, the Joconde went to the castle of Chambord before being taken to other places. As for the Venus de Milo, it was taken away and hidden in the castle of Valençay, located in the French countryside.
6. The Venus de Milo, tied up
As previously mentioned, the moving of the art pieces was a huge affair. It implied a very strict logistic and the help of specialists to disassemble, pack, carry and transport everything in a very short time. During this evacuation period, the Louvre’s management asked three professional photographers to immortalize this operation. This resulted in a photograph of the Venus de Milo, all tied up. It was both a photo-reportage on the technical aspect of the operation and a true work of art with aesthetic and symbolic value. It allows us to get some information on how the evacuation was carried out. The rooms and galleries were closed to the public, empty: true historical moment!
A Venus both protected and imprisoned
These ropes evoke imprisonment as the statue is a prisoner of the circumstances. More generally it implies that the violence and destruction caused by the war threaten the culture, love, and beauty, everything that Venus represents. On the other hand, we can see the ropes as being protective, they allow us to preserve this piece of art. Safe in the Castle of Valençay until 1945 and replaced by a copy for the reopening of the Louvre to the nazis in September 1940, the Venus is therefore protected.
Now go see it!
If you are interested in seeing the beautiful Venus de Milo I advise you to book a free walking tour with Discover Walks. I advise you to reserve the landmarks tour, a concentrate of Paris icons in 90 minutes that includes the Louvre, of course. Find out more here.