From Aphrodite to Venus Genetrix

On 21 May 2019, by Claire Papon et Anne Foster

Greek art of the Golden Age was revived with the Roman conquest, when sculptors such as Pasiteles and Arkesilaos took up the archetype of Aphrodite in the first century.

Roman, first century, Venus Genetrix, replica of a Greek original ca. 430-420 BC, drapery from a Naples-type statue of Aphrodite, white marble, old restorations, probably from the 16th century, h. 125 cm.
Estimate: €60,000/80,000

The naturalist statuary born of Praxiteles' talent caused such amazement that it was emulated in Greater Greece, and then throughout the Roman world, generating many replicas. Competing with painting, which developed considerably around 350 BC, Praxiteles and Skopas achieved a technical level where they transcribed the velvety texture of the skin, perfect anatomical proportions and details of clothing, hair and ornaments to marble. The sculptors' favourite subjects were deities such as Apollo, Dionysus and, especially, Aphrodite, sensual with her peplum sticking to the body in wet folds, revealing a breast. Strangely, Julius Caesar chose this model, known as Venus Genetrix, or “mother”, to decorate a temple dedicated to the glory of his gens in 46 BC. According to Pliny the Elder, it is the work of Arkesilaos who, he added, commanded higher prices than other sculptors. Another source for the Romans is Callimachus’s late fifth-century BC bronze Aphrodite, of which the Louvre’s Venus Genetrix is a replica from the Roman period. This statue, whose upper chest, head and arms are missing, stands in contrapposto: the lines of the arms and shoulders contrast with those of the hips and legs while balancing them. She still casts a spell despite being mutilated. Heads from other ancient works completed other replicas of Venus. This one has undergone a series of restorations, probably since the 16th century, as evidenced by wrought-iron rods and lead-plate inserts. The base, feet and edges of the tunic were redone in the 18th or 19th century. Nevertheless, this ode to female beauty still works: sensual curves appear under the chiton with fine wet folds falling to her feet. The drapery reveals more than it conceals.

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