Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Ancient Greek Art

What happened to the Venus de Milo’s arms?

In 1820, the remains of the Venus de Milo were accidentally discovered by a farmer on the Greek island of Melos (from which the sculpture gets its name). Since then, the Venus de Milo has become one of the most famous works of art in the world. Many other broken fragments of marble were found in the same field, and some of those pieces may have been fragments of her arms. These pieces suggest that the Venus de Milo might have been holding an apple in her right hand. But, there is another theory. Rather than an apple, she may have been admiring herself in the reflection of a polished shield. The second theory does the best to explain why the Venus de Milo’s left leg is slightly bent and her body somewhat twisted. Unfortunately, the fragments found with the statue are now lost.

But, it doesn’t end here; the lovely statue finds herself in yet another controversy. Is the Venus de Milo an example of ideal beauty and poise from the Classical period, or was she made during the more garish and later Hellenistic period? Many nineteenth-century scholars were convinced that she was an example of Classical sculpture due to stylistic similarities with the work of Classical master Praxiteles. Modern art historians now think she was made around 150 B.C.E., which would place her firmly in the Hellenistic period. They also cite the erotic tension caused by the way in which her robes are just about to slip off of her half-nude figure as being more in line with Hellenistic taste. It is perhaps the mystery that surrounds the Venus de Milo that adds to her beauty and attraction. One might wonder if she would be half as engaging with both of her arms completely intact.

Would the Venus de Milo be as beautiful with all of her limbs intact?


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