Venus de Milo
Interpretation of Hellenistic Greek Statue by Alexandros of Antioch: Aphrodite of Melos.

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Venus de Milo (c.130-100 BCE)
Marble Statue, Musee du Louvre.
One of the Greatest Sculptures Ever.

See: Art of Sculpture.

Venus de Milo (c.130-100 BCE)


Characteristics and Analysis
Hellenistic Sculpture
Enduring Beauty and Mystery
Greek Sculptors
Other Famous Marble Statues

For more about the background to Greco-Roman art,
please see: Classical Antiquity (800 BCE - 450 CE).

Venus de Milo
(Aphrodite of Melos)
Greek Sculpture of the
Hellenistic Period


One of the most famous examples of sculpture from Ancient Greece, the Venus de Milo is an armless marble statue of Aphrodite - the Greek goddess of love and beauty - which was sculpted during the Hellenistic period between about 130 and 100 BCE. A little larger than life size, it is believed to be the work of the sculptor Alexandros of Antioch, after an inscription on its plinth (now lost). This graceful figure of a goddess has fascinated art lovers for almost two centuries, ever since its discovery, in 1820, on the small Greek island of Melos in the Aegean. Arguably the most well-known statue in the history of sculpture, it is on public display in the collection of Greek sculpture at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Other celebrated Hellenistic marbles include The Punishment of Dirce (known as The Farnese Bull) (2nd century BCE, National Archeological Museum, Naples) and The Three Graces (2nd century BCE, Louvre, Paris). Another Hellenistic Greek marble statue of Aphrodite (1st century BCE), called the Venus of Arles, which bears something of a resemblance to the Venus de Milo, is also in the Louvre. See also our review of the famous Hellenistic marble known as Laocoon and His Sons (42-20 BCE).

To evaluate statues like
the Venus de Milo, see
our educational essays:
How to Appreciate Sculpture and
How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture

To analyze oils, see:
Art Evaluation
and also:
How to Appreciate Paintings.



The Venus de Milo was unearthed on the Greek island of Melos (Milos), one of the southwestern Cyclades group. It was found in a field by a young farmer called Yorgos Kentrotas, buried in a wall niche within the ruins of the ancient city of Milos. The stone sculpture was in two main pieces: (1) the upper torso, and (2) the legs, covered in drapery. Several other sculptural fragments were discovered close by, including a separate left arm (and hand) holding an apple, and an inscribed plinth with a clear reference to a sculptor called "...sandros from Anchiochia on the Meander".

The farmer was assisted in his recovery of the statue by Olivier Voutier, a French naval officer from the French fleet anchored nearby. As news spread of the find, a second French officer, Jules Dumont d'Urville, notified the French Consul to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople Charles-Francois de Riffardeau, Marquis de Riviere. He in turn arranged for the statue to be shipped to France, where it was presented as a gift to Louis XVIII, who duly donated it to the Louvre.

At the time, the museum was still feeling the loss of the Medici Venus, a famous work of ancient art which had been returned to Italy in 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. As a result, in order to boost the value of its new acquisition, it was decided to ignore the plinth, with its inscription identifying Alexandros of Antioch as the sculptor, so as to allow the statue to be attributed instead to Praxiteles (c.375-335 BCE), one of the greatest sculptors of the Classical era. In order to accomplish this, the authorities launched a major propaganda campaign promoting the significance of the work, which they craftily dated to Praxiteles' Classical era (480-323 BCE) - an action which did much to delay the emergence of an accurate scholarly assessment of the sculpture. Since then, the Venus de Milo has been dated to the later Hellenistic period (323-27 BCE) and attributed to the less well-known stone sculptor Alexandros of Antioch.



Characteristics and Analysis of the Venus de Milo

The statue is made from Parian marble and stands some 6 feet 8 inches tall, without its plinth. It is thought to portray Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of physical love and beauty. (The Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus.) According to restoration experts, the sculpture was carved from essentially two blocks of Parian marble, and is made up of several parts which were sculpted separately before being fixed with vertical pegs. Tragically, the statue's arms and original base, or plinth, have been lost almost since the work's arrival in Paris, in 1820. This was partly due to errors of identification, because when the statue was originally reassembled, the accompanying fragments of the left hand and arm were not believed to belong to it due to their altogether 'rougher' appearance. Today, however, experts are confident that these additional pieces were part of the original statue, despite the variation in finish, since it was common practice at the time to devote less effort to less visible parts of a sculpture. (The arm involved, being above eye-level, would typically be invisible to the casual spectator.)

Sculpture reconstruction experts calculate that the separately carved right arm of the Venus de Milo lay across the torso with the right hand resting on the raised left knee, thus clasping the drapery wrapped around the hips and legs. The left arm, meanwhile, was holding up the apple at about eye level. Scholars remain divided as to whether the goddess was looking at the apple she was holding, or gazing into the distance.

In its original state, the sculpture would have been tinted with colour pigments, to create a more lifelike appearance, then decorated with bracelet, earrings, and headband, before being placed in a niche inside a temple or gymnasium. Today, however, no trace any paint remains, while the only signs of any metal jewellery are the fixture holes.

Hellenistic Sculpture

Although influenced by elements taken from High Classical Greek Sculpture (c.450-400 BCE) as well as Late Classical Greek Sculpture (c.400-323 BCE) - the aloofness and impassivity of the head, for instance, derives from the 5th century BCE - the Venus de Milo makes use of creative innovations from the 3rd-1st century BCE, known as Hellenism. First, note the contrast between the smooth nude flesh of the torso and the ruffled texture of the drapery covering the legs. Second, note the the spiral composition - that is, the slight turn of the body - from the hips to the shoulder - combined with the outward thrust of the right hip, resulting in a fascinating S-shaped pose. Thirdly, note the relatively small size of the torso. Finally, there is an inescapable hint of erotic tension caused by the drapery which threatens to slip off entirely. These four stylistic features were all developed during the late Hellenistic period. Hence, overall, the work is seen as a subtle combination of earlier and later styles.


According to most experts, the Venus de Milo depicts the mythological Greek goddess Aphrodite, and the story of the Judgment of Paris. In this tale, a young Trojan prince, Paris, was given a golden apple by the goddess of Discord and told to award it to the most beautiful of the three candidates: Aphrodite, Athena and Hera. Aphrodite won the beauty contest by bribing Paris with the love of the most beautiful mortal woman - Helen of Sparta - and was awarded the apple.

Enduring Beauty and Mystery

During the 19th-century, the Venus de Milo was often eulogized by a number of art critics as one of the great treasures of Greek art: one representing the epitome of female beauty and aesthetics - not least, because of its remarkable fusion of grandeur and grace. Although times and tastes change - limbless Greek statues are not venerated with quite such enthusiasm in the 21st century - the goddess retains much of its mystery. Although she is believed to represent Aphrodite, because of her sensual, feminine curves, she might alternatively be the sea goddess Amphitrite, who was worshipped on the island of Milo at the time. Indeed, according to the Louvre, given its resemblance to the Aphrodite of Capua (National Archeological Museum, Naples), it may even be a Roman replica of an original Greek sculpture from the late 4th century.

Hellenistic sculptures like the Venus de Milo can be seen in some of the best art museums and sculpture gardens around the world, notably the Louvre in Paris, the Capodimonte Museum Naples, the Vatican Museums in Rome, and the J Paul Getty Centre in Los Angeles.

Greek Sculptors

For biographical details about other sculptors from ancient Greece, and their achievements in plastic art of the day, see the following:

Phidias (c.488-431 BCE)
Leading sculptor of the High Classical period.
Myron (Active 480-444 BCE)
Famous for his masterpiece, The Discus-Thrower.
Polykleitos (5th century BCE)
Classical sculptor noted for the Kanon of Polykleitos.
Callimachus (Active 432-408 BCE)
Imaginative 5th-century plastic artist and architect.
Skopas (Active 395-350 BCE)
One of the three major Late Classical sculptors.
Lysippos (c.395-305 BCE)
Court sculptor to Alexander the Great.
Leochares (Active 340-320 BCE)
Important early Hellenistic sculptor.

Other Famous Marble Statues

- Il Zuccone (1423–35) Florence. By Donatello.
- Pieta (1497-9) Saint Peters Basilica. By Michelangelo.
- David by Michelangelo (1501-4) Academy of Arts Gallery, Florence.
- Dying Slave (1513-16) Louvre. By Michelangelo.
- Tomb of Pope Julius II (1505-45) Rome. By Michelangelo.
- Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583) Florence.
- Pluto and Proserpina (1621-2) Galleria Borghese, Rome. By Bernini.
- The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52) Capella Cornaro. By Bernini.
- Apollo (1715) State Art Collection, Dresden. By Balthasar Permoser.
- "The Marly Horse" (1739-45) Louvre. By Guillaume Coustou.
- Apollo Crowning Himself (1781) Getty Museum, LA. By Antonio Canova.
- Psyche Awakened by Eros (1787-93) Louvre. By Antonio Canova.
- The Kiss (1888-9) Paris. By Auguste Rodin.

• For more about sculpture from Classical Antiquity, see: Homepage.
• For information about classical sculpture from Ancient Rome, see: Roman Art.

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