During my visit to the Carlos Museum at Emory University, I was amazed by the many works I saw from ancient times. They ranged from ancient Greek/Roman statues, Indian carvings, Egyptian mummies, to even Central American relics which we haven’t learned about in class. The piece that stood out to me the most, and what I will focus on for the rest of this essay, is the Aphrodite (Venus) statue, which is a Roman copy of the Greek original from the 1st century CE.
Upon arriving at the Carlos Museum, Aphrodite (Venus) is one of the first works you immediately see to the right of the Museum’s foyer. Featured boldly and prominently in the ancient Greek/Roman exhibit, she certainly gives off this air of beauty and elegance immediately when you first see her. The statue itself is carved out of an ivory marble, and depicts a woman (Aphrodite/Venus) nude, shyly covering her genitals while looking to her left while standing next to a cupid/cherub-like figure that is sitting atop of what appears to be a small whale of some sort. The statue’s right arm is broken off due to age, and the only fingers that remain on her left hand are her ring and pinky finger. The cupid/cherub and whale remain entirely intact. The statue as a whole seems just a tad bit under life-size, which I’m guessing is around 4’11” or so.
This could’ve been intentional, or it could be that the Greeks/Romans at the time were a shorter people, and thus Aphrodite (Venus) would’ve been an accurate life-sized statue. The statue also uses contrapposto, as Aphrodite (Venus) is “turning” in space, with her weight placed on her right leg as her body subtly twists as she’s looking towards her left. The cupid/cherub figure also displays good use of contrapposto, albeit more dramatically as he bends and twists his body and arms to hold the small whale’s tail over his shoulder. And lastly, the statue as a whole is “sculpture in the round”, meaning that you can walk around the entire statue and view it from any angle, unlike a relief which can only be viewed from a direct front.
As we have learned in class, Venus (in this case, Aphrodite since she is a Roman copy) is the goddess of love. Since she is a Roman copy of a Greek original, she is sculpted with Greek ideals of beauty in mind, and is considered to be a very sensual, seductive piece. Since there were no wall labels available for this piece in the museum, I simply relied on the Carlos Museum podcasts to give me more information about this piece. I was surprised to find out that this piece was originally missing its head; she was in fact, a headless body for quite some time. It wasn’t until recently that her head was finally reunited with her body. The cupid/cherub figure, according to the podcast, is Eros (or in Roman mythology, “Cupid”) the god of love and eroticism. The original Greek statue was created by sculptor Praxiteles, and according to the textbook, was shocking for its time due to its use of nudity which was more reserved for private paintings of courtesans and slave girls.
At the same time, however, it was a revolutionary piece because of Praxiteles’ rendering of marble to look like soft flesh, use of contrapposto, and of course, because it was one of the very first examples of the female nude in sculpture form. Despite being considered an erotic piece for its time, in modern times, the statue appears more subtle above all else. Aphrodite (Venus) is shyly looking to her side while covering her genitals with her left hand, as if we’ve caught her in a moment and she is embarrassed. Her right arm (which is broken off), would’ve been used to cover her breasts, according to the podcast. Despite her subtlety, she is still embraced as the sensual goddess of love, and to further support this, she is joined by Eros/Cupid, god of love and eroticism. The whale figure still remains a mystery to me. I can only guess that the reason the whale figure is present, is because (according to mythology) Venus was born from the sea.
In conclusion, I will say that seeing this statue in person was truly astonishing. This statue certainly radiates beauty and elegance, and seeing it in person was certainly breathtaking. Also, I was very surprised by the facts I’ve learned while listening to the podcasts. They really helped me look at this statue in a different way, and answered some question viewing this statue the first time around.