A history of The Venus de Milo


In his volume of art universe anecdotes, collector/dealer Richard Feigen comments that ‘for many art historiographers, some rather high, it would be convenient if a picture ‘s paternity, like a individual ‘s could be determined by a DNA trial ‘ ( 2000: p. 5 ) . The demand for any sort of DNA testing—or its equivalent—is an unfortunate commentary on society in general, and in this case upon the art universe specifically. As this paper will demo, the motives behind the saving and Restoration of art, particularly that which is alleged to be rare and representative of an earlier civilization, are frequently non what one would anticipate, or would wish to believe. The inspiration that has driven persons to travel to great extremes, including personal and fiscal hazard, to ‘salvage ‘ a work of art is frequently fueled by the personal aspirations and the demands and desires of the persons whose dockets are other than the saving of cultural heritage or a pure love of great art.

The cultural heritage of a state is represented in many ways, both touchable and intangible. By sharing its linguistic communication, its literature, its music, its culinary art, a state portions a portion of itself with the remainder of the world—in other words, everyone outside of that state. It can be argued that this heritage extends to physical objects as well—the Elgin Marbles are a instance in point. Harmonizing to legal bookman Irini Stamatoudi, the cultural heritage of a state is ‘one of the most interesting subjects of the twentieth century, in relation to the protection of cultural heritage, is the damages and repatriation of cultural objects, which were taken from their state of beginning, by ground of larceny and illicit exportation, or by ground of legal agencies, during periods of colonization, conquering or war ‘ ( 1997: Introduction ) . Stamatoudi does profess that there is no set jurisprudence by which the determination of ownership can be made, and asserts that such determinations should be made on an single footing, or ‘case-by-case attack ‘ . In this manner, she explains, ‘strong requests. . . can be separated from the 1s that are weak and undue ‘ ( 1997: Part III, 3 ) .

Taken as an single instance, so, the narrative of the Venus de Milo deserves some particular virtue. It receives this, and more, in Gregory Curtis ‘s slender but elaborate volume,Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo. The richly detailed narrative that Curtis Tells is full of intricate secret plan turns, Acts of the Apostless of nature, and unprompted, sometimes cryptic behaviour. Some of these events occur because of the unexplainable caprices of ill-conceived work forces ; more frequently, they are actions based on apprehensible ( though less-than-admirable ) human emotions that range from junior-grade pride to simple lecherousness to want for illustriousness and glorification. Arguably, the endurance of the statue is due to the great attention it was given after its find on the isle of Melos. In that sense, it seems that it should of course be considered as belonging to those who protected it from injury for coevals upon generation—primarily by the Gallic, and in France. On the other manus, had the Gallic non spirited the statue off from Melos, it might ne’er hold been subjected to such dangers in the first topographic point. However, this is a ineffectual argument for practical intents.


When what is now normally known as the Venus de Milo was foremost ‘discovered ‘ on the island of Melos. A cardinal participant in the early yearss was a Gallic crewman with some free clip on his custodies. An recreational archeologist and soi-disant sleuth, Olivier Voutier was instantly enamored of the statue and had an immediate sense of its intrinsic value. Plans were made to get it, and comparatively small was asked in return. The statue had merely been unearthed by a husbandman, who harmonizing to histories, holding found its awkward form unfit for practical usage, had proceeded to cover it back up. This is when Voutier happened upon the scene. Voutier, and his ship, theEstafette, were anchored at the island of Melos. The trim clip looking for ruins had seemingly paid off this clip, since he knew had found something worth the problem. The husbandman ‘s function was simply a passing illusion: ‘ [ his ] merely involvement in the statue was what money he could acquire for it ‘ ; finally, this turned out to be about four hundred pilasters, or ‘about the monetary value of a good donkey ‘ ( Curtis, 2003: p. 7 ) .

The Journey to France

Following begins the series of escapades and mishaps that lead to the statue ‘s current resting topographic point, the Louvre. Though at times the many dianoetic accounts and secret plan machinations are hard to follow, the Curtis volume is a valuable tool. The narrative is particularly interesting for what it demonstrates about ownership, patriotism, cultural pride and heritage. For illustration, the first hurdle to acquiring the statue to France seemed to be the local authorities, which Curtis describes as ‘a group of three work forces known as Primatess ‘ ( 12 ) . Possibly it was Voutier ‘s inordinate ardor that alerted others to the value of his discovery ; or maybe it was merely the natural wonder of a people who dwelled on an isle that has been described as instead sleepy and dull. At any rate, intelligence shortly spread about the statue, and local ‘politicians ‘ shortly weighed in on the issue. The politicians, whom Curtis refers to as ‘primates ‘ , informed the husbandman, Yorgos that it was up to their discretion to manage the sale of the statue. This meant that the concluding determination about the purchaser was out of the husbandman ‘s custodies. Yorgos, in bend, was to present this message to the Voutier, who was immersed in programs to buy and transport the statue back to France. Therefore does this inanimate object return on a life of its ain.

The decision-making procedure seems to hold been instead inconsistent—almost capricious, at times, although to be just, we do non hold at manus all the variables that were of influence. One person would be ready to put canvas with the statue, and so a alteration of bosom would name the exchange to a arrest. At one point, when it appeared that one foreigner—another Frenchman—was about to finalize the purchase, he was all of a sudden approached by the Primatess, who came to state him that ‘after long treatments they had decided the statue did n’t belong to any individual proprietor ‘ ( 2003: p. 29 ) .

The Venus de Milo in Europe

In the interim, the artistic gustatory sensations of Europeans had been undergoing a stylistic displacement. Harmonizing to Curtis, ‘the Venus de Milo arrived in a Europe that had been hoping—more than that, expecting—that she, or some work like her, would finally look ‘ ( 2003: p. 37 ) . The ground for this outlook was the extended volumes that had been written by Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a bookman of German descent who was driven by a apparently insatiate love for Greece and all things Greek. Winckelmann ‘s Hagiographas were said to hold fueled a kind of Grecian resurgence in the mid-eighteenth century, and the popularity of Baroque and rococo manners began to decline. This was peculiarly good established after publication of Winckelmann ‘s four-volume musical composition, entitled theHistory of Ancient Art( Curtis, 2003: p. 44 ) . Therefore, it seems that Winckelmann basically paved the manner for whatever ruins from Greece happened to do their manner to Europe.

There is an ironically interesting dual turn on this Grecian ‘revival ‘ . First of all is the fact that the Hagiographas on which it was based were, basically, false. Curtis asserts that Winckelmann ‘s work ‘influenced at least three coevalss of readers’—an impressive bequest by any criterions. However, ‘today we know that his facts, both big and little, were frequently incorrect ‘ ( 2003, p. 39 ) . Yet, interestingly plenty, Winckelmann ‘s mistakes did non travel unnoticed at the clip, at least non by careful readers. More of import is the fact that ‘these mistakes did non look of import compared to the manner Winckelmann experienced art ‘ ( Curtis, 2003, p. 39 ) . This is a revealing remark about human nature and its ability to overlook disagreements in order to encompass a coveted end, and of the power of desire and belief to prevail over fact.

‘Winckelmann ‘s belief that Greek art flourished because of the political freedom in classical times became about a mantra for speechmakers during the Gallic Revolution ‘ ( Curtis, 2003: p. 49 ) . That Winckelmann ‘s facts were incorrect, his narrative flawed, seems to hold gone mostly unnoticed and ignored. The incontestable fact remains that he was single-handedly responsible for lighting a major displacement in European artistic esthesia: ‘Without the profound alteration in gustatory sensation and thought that he inspired, there would hold been no passion forLa grecquein Paris ‘ ( Curtis, 2003: p. 49 ) . This adds to the statue ‘s escapades a spot of cunning misrepresentation: gustatory sensations that were molded and influenced by a series of published prevarications that were called ‘art history ‘ . However, the inquiry to inquire here is, does this do the narrative any less true, or any less valid?

The Venus de Milo Survives the War—and More

The endurance of the Venus de Milo after its entry into France seems to be due to the offices of a good many persons. The statue ‘s beauty in itself was plenty to animate and actuate, of class. Because of this, and because of the many private single dockets that played a function, the statue was in good custodies. One Frenchman who took great strivings to continue the Venus de Milo was Felix Ravaisson, who was the curator of antiquities and sculpture at the Louvre in June of 1870. His intercession saved the statue from being found and spirited off by the Prussian ground forces. It was he who planned the careful packaging of the statue, every bit good as arranged for the secret cell into which she was transported in the dark of dark, to seal in and covered with disguise. As a consequence, the Venus de Milo survived, affected but with no enduring damage—it even survived a fire, though packed in a wooden crate, protected by blasts of H2O from a pipe that had burst. At this point, one might reason, the statue genuinely belonged to the Gallic, who had kept it from harm—although, as mentioned above, one could besides see this from the position that it was the Gallic who ab initioputthe statue in harmful fortunes. Which position is right?

Ethical Issues

There is more to Curtis ‘s narrative of the statue ‘s life in the Louvre, including finds, some of them inadvertent, approximately Alexandros, the existent creative person who was responsible for making it. Yet the point, for footings of this treatment, is to find to what state the statue truly belongs—if, so, it belongs to any individual state at all. Is it the rightful belongings of the Greeks? Scholar Robert Nelson has written that for

‘every cultural appropriation there are those who act and those who are acted upon ‘ ( 1997: p. 172 ) . It would look that the actions in the statues continued saving are unquestionably those of the Gallic Does this give France rights of ownership? What about Greece, a state whose wealths have been plundered for centuries? Nelson, adopting a ‘tough love ‘ position, posits that ‘for those whose memories and cultural individualities are manipulated by aesthetic, academic, economic, or political appropriations, the effects can be perturbing or painful ‘ ( 1997: p. 172 ) . Still, is at that place nil more to be said?

Stamatoudi reminds us that ‘Art.3 ( 2 ) of the ICOM Code of Professional Ethics of 1986 provinces: “ A Museum should non get whether by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange, any object unless… ( it is ) satisfied that it can get a valid rubric to the object in inquiry and that in peculiar it has non been acquired in, exported from, its state of beginning… in misdemeanor of that state ‘s Torahs ” ‘ ( 1997: Part III, 3 ) . Where does that set the Venus de Milo? The intricate legalities of this state of affairs seem far excessively extended, excessively complex, and at many occasions, excessively hard to once and for all turn out, even in the most sophisticated tribunal of jurisprudence and the latest engineering. In add-on, the Gallic have existent ownership, every bit good as history of ownership, on ‘their ‘ side—as good as more power and influence in commanding the statue ‘s hereafter.


There are those who suggest that we go beyond legality to find rightful ‘ownership ‘ of a piece. Mentioning Karl Meyer, who wroteThe Plundered Past,Neil Brodie suggests that different rules should keep here, and that we should measure ‘national attitudes to rights in cultural and rational belongings ‘ ( 1999 ) . He hence concludes that it is ethically called for to esteem another states Torahs and rights, and that the legalities are basically superficial ( Brodie 1999 ) .

But it seems, at least for now, that the Venus de Milo is comfortably situated in its adoptive home—even as the Greeks continue to seek some kind of reparation for the plants of art that left its shores. ‘This exalted topographic point in our civilization is precisely what the Gallic wanted for the Venus de Milo so that her glorification would reflect onto them ‘ ( Curtis, 2003: p. 201 ) . But it is non for the glorification of the Gallic that 1000000s travel to see her each twelvemonth. There is a mystique about the Venus de Milo—Curtis ‘ book is one little spot of grounds to turn out this. The aura of enigma, combined with the complex and provocative history, the clever concealment topographic points and, at times, shots of fortune that seem to be an act of fate—all of this seems to propose that the statue truly belongs to no 1 at all. It is, instead, a testament to the human spirit, in all its failings and strengths. As Curtis puts it, this ‘proves that great art transcends its clip and topographic point, and even the intent for which it was intended ‘ ( 2003: p. 204 ) . As this paper has shown, the things that drive the saving and Restoration of art, particularly that which is alleged to be rare and representative of an earlier civilization, are frequently non what we expect, or would wish to believe. Inspiration is frequently fueled by secret agendas—and by the personal aspirations and the demands and desires of the persons whose primary ends are other than the saving of cultural heritage or a pure love of great art.


Brodie, Neil. 1999. ‘Who Owns Culture? ’Culture Without Context.Issue 4, Spring 1999.Conference Report.International Conference on Cultural Property and Patrimony. Retrieved electronically from

hypertext transfer protocol: //www.mcdonald.cam.ac.uk/IARC/cwoc/issue4/Columbia.htm

Carrier, David. 1997. ‘Art History ‘ . InCritical Footings for Art History,2neodymiumedition, Nelson, R. and Shiff, R. , eds. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press: pp. 174- 187.

Curtis, Gregory. 2003.Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo.New York: Vintage Books.

Feigen, Richard. 2000.Narratives from the Art Crypt: The Painters, the Museums, theCurators, the Collectors, the Auctions, the Art.New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Nelson, Robert. 1997. ‘Appropriation ‘ . InCritical Footings for Art History,2neodymiumedition, Nelson, R. and Shiff, R. , eds. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press: pp. 160-174.

Stamatoudi, Irini, LLM. 1997. ‘The jurisprudence and moralss deducing from the Parthenon Marbles instance ‘ . Retrieved electronically from

hypertext transfer protocol: //www.greece.org/parthenon/marbles/legal.htm # case in point


Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out