Aphrodite of Milos

Greek history has since time immemorial been closely associated with countless gods, demigods and fabulous myths. In Ancient Greece, gods were venerated and worshipped and in their honour temples were built, sacrifices were made and wars were also conducted.

One of the most famous images of goddesses was and is Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and feminine beauty. There are many varied representations of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, in the fine arts. One of the most famous paintings is without doubt the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. Among sculptures, though, by far the best-known masterpiece is the statue of “Venus de Milo.”

Near where the statue of Aphrodite was found
Near where the statue of Aphrodite was found

Aphrodite or Venus

The now world-famous statue of Aphrodite from Milos was said to be created in about 100 BC and based on Roman mythology it was also known as Venus de Milo. Since this statue is of Greek origin, the correct name is clearly “Aphrodite of Milos,” although it became known by the name of “Venus de Milo.” Today the statue can be admired in the Louvre in Paris and there is only a copy in the Archaeological Museum in Plaka.

The statue

Aphrodite as a souvenir. She is available as a small marble statue in many shops on Milos.
Aphrodite as a souvenir. She is available as a small marble statue in many shops on Milos.

Aphrodite of Milos symbolises the ideal of feminine beauty. The marble from which it is made comes from the island of Paros, although it is still not known which sculptor produced it. The statue of Aphrodite, which was made with skill and in very great detail, is, besides the Laocoön Group, the most famous example of Late Hellenistic art in Ancient Greece.

According to most academics, the statue represents Aphrodite after taking a bath in preparation for the Judgement of Paris. Eris, the goddess of discord, had provoked an argument between Aphrodite, Pallas Athene and Hera regarding which of them was the most beautiful. Zeus appointed Paris as the judge and Aphrodite was the winner. But that did not remove the problem and further tribulations continued until the Trojan War.

Giorgos Kentrotas, the discoverer of the Aphrodite of Milos

The 2.04-metre-high statue was found as recently as 8 April 1820 by Giorgos Kentrotas, a farmer, in the vicinity of the ancient theatre not far from Tripiti. The statue had been placed there in a niche in a wall. Kentrotas had originally been looking for building materials and he probably would not have given the statue a second thought. However, a sailor in the French navy called Olivier Vautier who would later become a colonel learnt by accident of the discovery of this artefact. Vautier encouraged the farmer to keep digging and in the end even helped him to excavate the statue of Aphrodite. Then he himself made drawings of the rescued pieces of marble. The upper body and the lower part of the statue were excavated along with two herms.

Venus’ route to the Louvre

Vautier then reported the find to the Marquis de Riviere, the French Ambassador in Constantinople. Thanks to his contacts, the Marquis de Riviere was able to “purchase” the statue for France. Kentrotas, the farmer, was not aware of the significance of this unique find and was satisfied with a few coins.

After some confusion, the statue was said to have been shipped first to Constantinople but the French were not able to prevent this in time. The Marquis then gave the Venus to the then French King Louis XVIII. The statue was shipped on and reached France in November 1820.

In 1821 King Louis XVIII in turn passed this valuable statue of Aphrodite on to the Louvre, where you can still see it today. Since being transferred to the Louvre, the statue has become a world-famous piece in the history of art. In Milos itself, however, there is only a copy of the famous statue to look at.

Puzzling past

Theoretical reconstruction of the arms and their positions
Theoretical reconstruction of the arms and their positions

What history the statue had witnessed during the almost 2,000 years until its discovery is not yet known. Unfortunately the statue is no longer intact. Both of Aphrodite’s arms are missing and to date they have never turned up. Apart from that, the statue has survived the millennia relatively undamaged.

Doubt prevails about the sculptor of the statue. A fragment of a plinth with an inscription was found with the statue of Aphrodite. The statue was identified as the work of a certain Alexandros or Hagesandros. Unfortunately the plinth with the inscription disappeared even before the statue had been set up in the Louvre, so definite attribution is now no longer possible. Both Alexandros of Antioch and Hagesandros of Rhodes from the group of artists consisting of Anthanadoros, Hagesandros and Polydoros are considered possible creators of the Aphrodite of Milos.

Archaeological Museum of Milos

The most important exhibit in the Archaeological Museum in Plaka is of course the statue of Aphrodite. Larger than life size, she greets you just inside the entrance door in the foyer. But it is tragic that it is the only exhibit that is not genuine. If the original were at least in Athens, they would surely be satisfied with a copy of the “Venus de Milo” here in the place where it was found. But whether or not Aphrodite will ever come home from France is open to question.

False Aphrodite in the right place: Copy of the Venus de Milo in the Archaeological Museum in Plaka

Update 05/20