Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Venus of Arles and the Venus of Capua

The Venus of Arles, Roman copy of Praxiteles original
The Venus of Capua, Roman copy of 4th C original

The Venus of Arles is probably a copy of an original statue by Praxiteles. The Venus of Capua is a variation on the pose. The pose here is what interests us; it. Like the Knidan pose, it was widely copied in later art, with its most successful interpretation the Venus de Milo.

Aphrodite here is somewhat more regal than in other representations, and is associated with military conquest. Aphrodite holds in her hands the shield (now missing) of her lover, Ares (Roman Mars), the god of war. She is admiring herself in its reflection. A common motif in the art of the West will be the Venus at toilette, in which she looks into a mirror. In this representation, she seems absorbed in thought.

Neither of these statues, it should be noted, can represent much of what the original would have been. The Arles, which was discovered in the 17th century, was re-worked at King Louis Xiv's instructions. Although the revisions were done by Giraudon, a fine sculptor, the tastes of the time - the King's tastes in particular - were to avoid messy things like muscles and ribs, and so the torso was smoothed out. Bad idea.

The drapery is very low, and looks about to slip off, which somewhat diminishes, or transforms, her regal presence; perhaps she is thinking too much and, hence, unaware of her imminent wardrobe malfunction. In a sense, then, these pieces re-frame the idea of energy and motion discovered, for example, in Myron's Discobolos - who is about to throw the discus - and in the Polykleitos's Doryphoros - who is about to take a step.

The drapery around the legs has the effect of providing a solid - albeit slippery - base for the figure. As Lord Clark points out,

It has always been the despair of sculptors that the torso, that perfect, plastic unity, should rest on tapering, spindly supports. Praxiteles has simply draped the legs and left the torso bare. He has thus achieved so firm a foundation for his figure that he can dispense with any support—vase, pillar, or dolphin—and allow the arms free play (The Nude, 130)