One of the most famous sculptures of all time, the Venus de Milo received its name from the fact that it was discovered by a peasant on the Greek island of Melos in 1820. The work was seized by Turkish officials and eventually sold to a French naval official. In 1821 it was presented to Louis XVIII, who donated it to the Louvre Museum in Paris, where it can be seen today.
The statue, which is six an a half feet tall, is sculpted out of marble from the Greek island of Paros. Its subject is Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, known to the Romans as Venus. A sculpted arm holding an apple was found nearby. Many scholars believe that the arm was originally attached. According to myth, Paris of Troy had given Venus a golden apple to identify her as the most beautiful woman in the world.
The artist and date of the sculpture have given rise to much debate. Initially authorities at the Louvre declared it a classical (fifth- or fourth-century BC) work, possibly executed by Phidias or Praxiteles. However, the base on which the statue had been found identified the artist as Alexandros of Antioch of Menander, a colony that was not founded until later, in the Hellenistic period. Although museum officials eventually agreed that the sculpture was Hellenistic, it is still exhibited as the work of an anonymous artist.
The Venus de Milo has been admired throughout the world ever since its discovery. The British playwright Oscar Wilde recounted the story of a man who ordered a plaster copy of the statue and then sued the railroad company when it arrived from Paris without arms. What surprised Wilde even more was the fact that the man won his case.
- The statue was claimed by Ludwig I of Bavaria, who insisted that it had been found on territory that he had purchased in Melos in 1817.
- In 1964, the statue was exhibited in Japan, where more than 1.5 million people viewed it from a moving sidewalk.