This short talk started as a joke. I found the image of the Venus de Milo and thought that it wasn’t fair that she had no arms, and then found Lakshmi, who has four!
Alexandros of Antioch?, Venus de Milo, 130-100 BC, marble, 203 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
The Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Initially it was attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles, but is now thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, the statue is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm high. Part of an arm and the original plinth were lost following its discovery. The statue is named after the Greek island of Milos, where it was discovered.
The consensus is that the statue was found in two large pieces (the upper torso and the lower draped legs) along with several herms (pillars topped with heads), fragments of the upper left arm and left hand holding an apple, and an inscribed plinth.
In 1871, during the Paris Commune uprising, many public buildings were burned; the statue was secreted out of the Louvre Museum in an oak crate and hidden in the basement of Prefecture of Police. Though the Prefecture was burned, the statue survived undamaged.
In the autumn of 1939, the Venus was again packed for removal from the Louvre in anticipation of the outbreak of war. Scenery trucks from the Comédie-Française transported the Louvre’s masterpieces to safer locations in the countryside. During the war, the statue was sheltered safely in the Château de Valençay, along with the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo’s Slaves.
The great fame of the Venus de Milo during the nineteenth century was not simply the result of its admitted beauty; it also owed much to a major propaganda effort by the French authorities. In 1815, France had returned the Medici Venus, see below, to the Italians after it had been looted by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Medici Venus, regarded as one of the finest classical sculptures in existence, caused the French to promote the Venus de Milo as a greater treasure than that which they recently had lost. The statue was praised dutifully by many artists and critics as the epitome of graceful female beauty. However, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was among its detractors, labelling it “un grand gendarme”.
Ravi Varma, Lakshmi
Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity. She is the wife of Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism and the Supreme Being in the Vaishnavism Tradition. Lakshmi is also an important deity in Jainism and found in Jain temples. Lakshmi has also been a goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists, and was represented on the oldest surviving stupas and cave temples of Buddhism.
In Hindu religion, she was born from the churning of the primordial ocean and she chose Vishnu as her eternal consort. When Vishnu descended on the Earth as the avatars Rama and Krishna, Lakshmi descended as his respective consort.
The marriage and relationship between Lakshmi and Vishnu as wife and husband is the paradigm for rituals and ceremonies for the bride and groom in Hindu weddings.
Lakshmi is depicted in Indian art as an elegantly dressed, golden coloured woman with an owl as her vehicle, signifying the importance of economic activity in maintenance of life, her ability to move, work and prevail in confusing darkness.
She typically stands or sits like a yogin on a lotus pedestal and holds a lotus in her hand, a symbolism for fortune, self-knowledge and spiritual liberation. Her iconography shows her with four hands, which represent the four goals of human life considered important to the Hindu way of life: dharma, kāma, artha, and moksha.
Raja Ravi Varma, 1848-1906, was a celebrated Malayali Indian painter and artist. He is considered among the greatest painters in the history of Indian art for a number of aesthetic and broader social reasons. Firstly, his works are held to be among the best examples of the fusion of European techniques with a purely Indian sensibility. While continuing the tradition and aesthetics of Indian art, his paintings employed the latest European academic art techniques of the day. Secondly, he was notable for making affordable lithographs of his paintings available to the public, which greatly enhanced his reach and influence as a painter and public figure. Indeed, his lithographs increased the involvement of common people with fine arts and defined artistic tastes among common people for several decades. In particular, his depictions of Hindu deities and episodes from the epics and Puranas have received profound acceptance from the public and are found, often as objects of worship, across the length and breadth of India.
A selection of his work:
A Lady giving alms at the Temple; The Coquette; Mahatma Gandhi, who must have in his thirties at the time of the painting; A Girl after her Bath; A Galaxy of Musicians; Self Portrait; and, Sorrow.
Myths worldwide tend to have common elements: Botticelli’s Venus stands on a shell, while Lakshmi has chosen a lotus blossom:
In passing, the Venus de’ Medici:
Venus de’ Medici, c100 BC, 153cm, Gallerie degli Uffizzi, Florence, Italy
The Venus de’ Medici is a Hellenistic marble sculpture depicting the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite. It is a 1st-century BCE marble copy, perhaps made in Athens, of a bronze original Greek sculpture.
The goddess is depicted in a fugitive, momentary pose, as if surprised in the act of emerging from the sea, to which the dolphin at her feet alludes.
The restoration of the arms was made by Ercole Ferrata, who gave them long tapering Mannerist fingers that did not begin to be recognised as out of keeping with the sculpture until the 19th century.
The origin of the Venus is undocumented. It was published in the collection at the Villa Medici, Rome, in 1638, although it was already known by 1559.
Lord Byron devoted five stanzas of “Childe Harold” to describing it.
It was one of the works of art shipped to Palermo in 1800 to escape the French, without success. It was shipped to Paris in 1803, but after Napoleon’s fall it arrived back in Florence on 27 December 1815.
Back to what started it all:
BT, Meeting No24, 4 September, 2018