Venus de Milo, also known as the Aphrodite of Melos, has become one of the most famous images in the world. Her armless torso has become as well-known and as much copied as Michelangelo's David and the Mona Lisa. Milo is the French name for the island of Melos, while Aphrodite and Venus are different names for the same goddess, symbolising female beauty.

The exact date and the place of carving are unknown, as is her sculptor. In art history terms, the intricately-carved folds in the drapery around her hips and legs mean she was almost certainly created around 150 - 100 BC in the Hellenistic period, when Greek culture was in decline. This detailing is very reminiscent of the drapery on the less-famous Nike of Samothrace. Despite this flamboyance, she shares some details of form with works from the older, grand Classical period, such as the Aphrodite of Knidos of Praxiteles.

She is carved from two separate blocks of Parian marble, which meet just above the drapery. Originally she had metal jewellery in her ears.

The 2.02 m -high (2.16 m with plinth) figure now stands in the sculpture gallery of the Musee du Louvre in Paris, but her journey there has been long and complicated.

Her history prior to 1820 is completely unknown. However, in that year, a peasant called Jorgos (or 'Yorgos') found her body in pieces in a cave near the acropolis of Adamanda on the island of Melos, part of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. At the time, Melos was part of the Ottoman Empire, and under Turkish control. The law said Jorgos was supposed to hand over the work to the Turkish authorities, but he chose to hide the pieces in his barn.

However, his secret was discovered, and the pieces were loaded onto a Turkish ship, but somehow, in one of the mysteries of the art world, she found her way onto a French frigate off the Melos coast. The Turkish official in charge was publicly flogged.

She arrived in Paris and was presented to Louis XVIII who presented her to the Louvre in 1821, where she has become one of the most treasured works of that gallery. King Louis wanted to replace her arms, and sought advice from the best French sculptors, who supplied arms holding things and arms holding nothing. None of their suggestions satisfied the King, who then decreed that her beauty should not be marred by further modern 'restoration'. This decree has resulted in many subsequent artworks being left unrestored. Probably a good thing.


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