The Roman statue of Aphrodite (Venus) (2006.4I.I) in the Carlos Museum was sculpted around 1st century AD, after a Greek original in the 4th century BC.1 This sculpture is displayed around other sculptures from Greek and Roman culture, which will recreate its original cultural context to the viewers. This sculpture’s mythological subject matter, overall seductive posture, and exquisite detail thoroughly express the Venus’s beauty. In addition, her nudity started a new conception for female nude to express naturalistic performance and had a far-reaching influence to later art styles.
This sculpture was made of marble. Its color is a near white, which has an effect to emphasize the goddess of beauty’s purity. The sculptor chose marble rather than other materials such as clay because the brittle nature of other materials made it hard for the sculptures to survive. Also, if the sculptor had chosen clay to mold Venus, the color of buff and gold of clay would have reduced the effect of the Venus’s purity and beauty. The block of marble that the sculptor of Venus chose was fine material. The fine rather than coarse texture enabled the sculptor to achieve greater detail with his work, for example, the exquisitely detailed hairstyle of Venus and the details on her feet, including toes and toenails.
One can now imagine that a famous sculptor methodically hammered, chipped, and polished all day inside his quaint little shop to sculpt a beautiful marble sculpture. This freestanding sculpture consists of two elements, a female nude and a baby riding on a dolphin. The dolphin at her side, ridden by Eros in the form of a putto, alludes to his birth from the sea.2 The Venus and Cupid were cut away from one piece of marble. The consistent line of the graceful nude female, from shoulder to arm and from thigh to leg, shows that the Venus was not assembled. Also, Venus and Cupid share the same base, which means they were carved from one piece of marble. The base functions to support Venus and Cupid. The tail flukes of the dolphin reaches Venus’ left thigh and the flipper of the dolphin reaches her left calf, functioning as a strut to support the statue. The left thigh of Venus, the dolphin, and the base form a triangle, which is a specific compositional balance.
This subject matter is mythological. Evidence clearly shows that the sculpture is the goddess Venus. For example, her graceful hairstyle implies her status: either royalty or divinity. Also, her gesture and nudity remind viewers of other Venus sculptures from Greek Art. Venus’s son Eros riding a dolphin next to her left thigh is a symbolic reference to Aphrodite’s mythological marine origins. The female nude is less than life-size but with perfect proportions. No part of her body is enlarged so her body is human-like. The two-thirds life-size to life-size scale is a perfect choice because the sculpture is meant for an intimate setting such as a garden where it will be viewed close-up. There is some tonal contrast; for instance, the contrast between her left leg and her genitalia shows the statue’s three dimensions. The bending of her right knee shows she is in a contrapposto position with most of her weight on her left leg. She is looking to her left and turning around slightly. This sculpture is a three dimensional work, which means her back is not a flat surface. In the back, there is a noticeable curve in her spine counters the slight shifting of her hips and a subtle drop of her left shoulder. Her right arm (now missing) would have concealed her left breast and her left hand modestly covers her genital area, which is a gesture that conceals and highlights her sexuality.
This Carlos Museum artwork is not shown behind glass and it is freestanding so viewers can walk around it. It encourages a close-up examination. From a distance, viewers could see the sculptures as a whole, for example, their postures and overall proportion. Without glass,…