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The Mysterious History of the Marble ‘Venus de Milo’ Statue

Discovery

In 1820, the statue was discovered by a farmer in an ancient niche on the Aegean island of Melos.

Venus de Milo Statue Ancient Greek Sculpture Classical Greek Sculpture

Image: Kurzon via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

While it was unearthed in pieces, it was able to be reassembled. Its fragmented arms—the left holding an apple and the right brushing against the figure's waist—however, were deemed unoriginal and not re-attached.

Additionally, as evident in this drawing by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Debay, the figure was found on an inscribed base, which also proved to be a later addition and was thus removed.

Venus de Milo Statue Ancient Greek Sculpture Classical Greek Sculpture

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Still, even as an incomplete sculpture, it was immediately considered a masterpiece. It was given to Louis XVIII, who donated it to the Louvre in 1821. While the museum initially intended to restore the statue, no one could decide how to position its arms. “Leaning against a pillar, resting her elbow on Ares' shoulder, or holding a variety of attributes” are some of the many possibilities that could have characterized the statue's original design.

Given the Louvre's inability to agree upon the sculpture's intended aesthetic, it was put on display without its arms—a decision that still stands.

The Sculpture Today

For nearly 200 years, the sculpture has been a vital part of the Louvre's permanent collection. Along with pieces like Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's Dying Slave, it is regarded as one of the museum's most precious—and popular—works of art.

Described by the Louvre as a “timeless masterpiece,” the Venus de Milo is slated to educate and enchant for centuries to come.

Venus de Milo Louvre Paris France

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.

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