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Venus de Milo - History

Venus de Milo - History

Olivier Voutier, a French naval officer, was exploring the island of Milos. With the help of the young farmer, Voutier began to dig around what were clearly ancient ruins. Within a few hours Voutier had uncovered Venus de Milo. About ten days later, another French naval officer, Jules Dumont d'Urville, recognized its significance and arranged for a purchase by the French ambassador to Turkey, Charles-François de Riffardeau, marquis, later duc de Rivière.

The following falsehood regarding the discovery of Venus de Milo has been widely publicized:

Twelve days out of Toulon the ship was anchored off the island of Melos. Ashore, d'Urville and [fellow officer] Matterer met a Greek farmer named Moraitis, who a few days earlier while ploughing his fields had uncovered blocks of marble and a statue in two pieces, which he offered cheaply to the two young men. The marble base where the Venus de Milo originally stood still resides today on the property of his great, great nephew, Dimitri Moraitis. The Venus de Milo is a statue of a naked woman with an apple in her raised left hand, the right hand holding a draped sash falling from hips to feet, both hands damaged and separated from the body. Even with a broken nose, the face was beautiful. D'Urville the classicist recognized the Venus of the Judgement of Paris. It was, of course, the Venus de Milo. He was eager to acquire it, but his practical captain, apparently uninterested in antiquities, said there was nowhere to store it on the ship, so the transaction lapsed. The tenacious d'Urville on arrival at Constantinople showed the sketches he had made to the French ambassador, the Marquis de Rivière, who sent his secretary in a French Navy vessel to buy it for France. Before he could take delivery, French sailors had to fight Greek brigands for possession. In the mêlée the statue was roughly dragged across rocks to the ship, breaking off both arms, and the sailors refused to go back to search for them.

This story, however, proved to be a fabrication – Voutier's drawings of the statue when it was first discovered show that its arms were already missing (Curtis, 2003).
News of the discovery took longer than normal to get to the German ambassador. The peasant grew tired of waiting for payment and was pressured into selling it to Nicholas Mourousi, Grand Dragoman of the Fleet, working as a translator for Sultan Mahmud II in Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey).

The German ambassador's representative, Hermes de Marcellus, arrived just as the statue was being loaded aboard a ship bound for Constantinople and seized the statue and persuaded the island's chief citizens to annul the sale.

Upon learning of the reversal of the sale, Nicholas Mourousi presumably had the chiefs whipped and fined. In 1821, Mourousi was executed by order of Sultan Mahmud II in front of the arsenal in Constantinople. This was amidst massive executions of Phanariote Greeks and the beginning of the Greek War of Independence.

Upon arrival at the Louvre, the statue was reassembled, but the fragments of the left hand and arm were dismissed initially as being a later restoration because of the rougher workmanship. It now is accepted that the left hand holding the apple and the left arm are in fact original to the statue, but were not so well finished as the rest of the statue since they would have been somewhat above visible level and difficult to see. This was a standard practice for many sculptors of the era—less visible parts of statues often were not so well finished since typically, they would be invisible to the casual observer. Sculptures and statues from this era normally were carved out of several blocks of stone and carefully pieced together. The Venus de Milo was found to have been carved from at least six or seven blocks of Parian marble: one block for the nude torso, another block for the draped legs, another block apiece for each arm, another small block for the left foot, another block for the inscribed plinth, and finally, the separately carved herm that stood beside the statue.

Initially, the plinth was found to fit perfectly as part of the statue, but after its inscription was translated and dated, the embarrassed experts who had publicized the statue as a possible original work by the artist Praxiteles dismissed the plinth as a later addition. The inscription read: "...(Alex)andros son of Menides, citizen of Antioch on the Maeander made this (statue)...". The inscribed plinth would have moved the dating of the statue from the Classical period to the Hellenistic period because of the style of lettering and the mention of the ancient city of Antioch on the Maeander, which did not exist in the early fourth century BC, when Praxiteles lived. At that time the Hellenistic Age was considered a period of decline for Greek art. The quality workmanship in the carving would not have fit into the incorrect assessment of Hellenistic art and the plinth mysteriously disappeared shortly before the statue was presented to King Louis XVIII in 1821 and evidence of it only survives in two drawings and an early description. The king eventually presented the statue to the Louvre museum in Paris.

In 1920, sculptor Robert Ingersoll Aitken created a stir when he criticized the display, lighting, and placement of the statue of Venus de Milo in the museum.
In the autumn of 1939, the Venus was packed for removal from the Louvre in anticipation of the outbreak of war. Scenery trucks from the Comédie-Française transported the masterpieces of the Louvre to safer locations in the countryside. During the years of World War II, the statue was sheltered safely in the Château de Valençay along with the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo's Slaves.

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