Venus Kallipygos  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Callipygian Venus[1] or Venus Kallipygos, or "Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks", is a type of nude female statue of the Hellenistic era. It depicts a partially-draped woman, raising her light peplos to uncover her hips and buttocks, and looking back and down over her shoulder, perhaps to evaluate them.

Contents

History

The Venus Kallipygos as we have it is a Roman work in marble, dating to the late 1st century BC. It is considered to be a copy or "paraphrase" of an older Greek statue, probably bronze. This lost original is thought to have been created around 300 BC, near the inception of the Hellenistic era. Its sculptor and provenance are unknown. It was rediscovered, missing its head, in Rome by at least the 16th century. It is sometimes said to have been found in the ruins of Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea, though this is unlikely as fragments uncovered there contained no evidence of high-quality artworks such as the Venus.

The missing head was reconstructed in the 16th century; a more thorough reconstruction was undertaken by Carlo Albacini in the late 18th century. The restorers decided to have the figure look over her shoulder at her own buttocks, a choice that gave the Venus its distinctive pose and had a significant effect on later interpretations of the work. The statue was acquired by the Farnese family and was in the Palazzo Farnese by 1594; it may be the draped Venus described as being in the palace by visitors earlier that century. In the 17th century it is known to have been kept in the palace's Sala dei Filosophi, where it stood surrounded by statues of eighteen ancient philosophers. In 1731 the Farnese estate was inherited by Charles of Bourbon, who moved some of the marbles, including the Venus, across the Tiber River to the Villa Farnesina.

In 1786 the Bourbons decided to move the Venus Kallipygos to Naples with the rest of the Farnese collection. First, however, it was sent to be restored by Carlo Albacini. Responding to contemporary criticisms of some of the statue's features, Albacini replaced the head, the arms, and one leg; he followed the previous restoration fairly faithfully in having the figure look back over her shoulder. By 1792 the statue was at the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, and by 1802 it was in the Museo degli Studi, now the Naples National Archaeological Museum, where it remains.

Interpretations

The restorers' decision to have the figure look over her back greatly affected subsequent interpretations, to the point that the classicists Mary Beard and J. G. W. Henderson describe it as having "created a 'masterpiece' in place of a fragment..." The restored statue's pose draws further attention to the naked buttocks, and gives the figure a distinctly erotic aspect. The restoration recalled in the minds of viewers a story recorded in Athenaeus' Deipnosophists 12.554 c–e of two girls in Syracuse who were trying to decide which of them had the more shapely buttocks:

"The people of those days were so attached to their sensual pleasures that they even went so far as to dedicate a temple to Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks, for the following reason. Once upon a time a farmer had two beautiful daughters. One day these girls, getting into a dispute as to which one had a more beautiful backside, (literally, "was more beautiful-buttocked [kallipygotera]") went out onto the public street. And by chance a young man was passing by, the son of a rich old man. They showed themselves to him, and when he saw them he voted in favor of the older girl. And in fact, falling in love with her, when he got back to town, he took to his bed and told his younger brother everything that had happened. And the younger brother also went to the country and saw the girls, and he fell in love with the other daughter. And so when the boys' father tried to get them to marry someone of the upper classes, he couldn't persuade his sons, and so he brought the girls in from the country, with their father's permission, and married them to his sons. And so these girls were called fair-buttocked by the citizens, as Cercidas of Megalopolis says in his Iambic Verses: "There was a pair of beautiful-buttocked girls in Syracuse." And so these girls, when they got wealthy and famous, founded a temple of Aphrodite and called the goddess the Fair-buttocked, as Archelaus of Chersonesus tells us in his Iambic Verses." --"Exposed: The Victorian Nude"

This tale was circulated in Vincenzo Cartari's 16th-century retelling of stories from classical mythology, Le Imagini. The fact that there was a religious cult of Aphrodite Kallipygos at Syracuse is also mentioned by the Christian author Clement of Alexandria in a list of erotic manifestations of pagan religion. Clement cites the poet Nicander of Colophon, and generously quotes the alternative term (kalligloutos, "with a beautiful bottom") that Nicander used.

Many viewers of the 17th and 18th centuries identified the subject as the goddess, and supposed the work to be a cult statue to Venus Kallipygos. It was thus often described at the time as Venus exiting the bath. Others, however, identified it instead with one of the "beautiful-buttocked" girls from Athenaeus' story, and as such it was alternatively known as "La Belle Victorieuse" or "La Bergère Grecque".

In 1836, Famin called it a "charming statuette" but noted that it was:

"...placed in a reserved hall, where the curious are only introduced under the surveillance of a guardian, though even this precaution has not prevented the rounded forms which won for the goddess the name of Callipyge, from being covered with a dark tint, which betrays the profane kisses that fanatic admirers have every day impressed there. We ourselves knew a young German tourist smitten with a mad passion for this voluptuous marble; and the commiseration his state of mind inspired set aside all idea of ridicule."

(From Famin's catalogue entry for the work. A similar tale was told in classical antiquity of Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos, which had even been the subject of attempted sexual intercourse - Pseudo-Lucian, Amores 15.)

Ancient examples

The best known example is a small Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic original. It was found at Rome. It was on show in the Palazzo Farnese and thus joined the Farnese collection when that palace was acquired. With that collection it found its way to Naples in 1802. It was then considered dangerously erotic, on the level of pornography (the more so for being partially draped rather than entirely nude like the Venus de Medici) and was included amongst other such material in the Secret Cabinet.

In 1836, Famin called it a "charming statuette" but noted that it was:

"...placed in a reserved hall, where the curious are only introduced under the surveillance of a guardian, though even this precaution has not prevented the rounded forms which won for the goddess the name of Callipyge, from being covered with a dark tint, which betrays the profane kisses that fanatic admirers have every day impressed there. We ourselves knew a young German tourist smitten with a mad passion for this voluptuous marble; and the commiseration his state of mind inspired set aside all idea of ridicule."

It is currently on display at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

Modern copies

A marble copy by Jean-Jacques Clérion (1686) was sent to Versailles. Another copy was made by François Barois during his residence at the French Academy in Rome, 1683-86. It was sent to Versailles, then to Marly-le-Roi in 1695, where it was provided with additional marble draperies by Jean Thierry, not to offend an increasingly prudish public taste; it remained at Marly until the Revolution, when it found it way to the Jardin des Tuileries.

Augustus the Strong ordered a copy, which was executed by Pierre de l’Estache in Rome between 1722-23, for the Grosser Garten, Dresden. However it was destroyed in 1945 (Desmas 2002).

Modern appreciation

The 19th century identification was popularised by the 20th century lyrics of the Frenchman Georges Brassens, particularly an extract from La Fontaine which paraphrases Athenaeus' account and ends:

I do not know what they intended,
But this was the temple of Greece
For which I professed the most devotion.

References

  • Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, 1984. Taste and the Antique Cat. 86.
  • Laurentino García y García, Luciana Jacobelli, Louis Barré, 2001. Museo Segreto. With a Facsimile edition of Herculanum et Pompéi. Recueil général des peintures, bronzes, mosaïques... (1877). (Pompei: Marius Edizioni) Eric M. Moormann, On-line Bryn Mawr Classical Review 20.
  • Dericksen Brinkerhoff, review of Aphrodite Kallipygos by Gosta Saflund and Peter M. Fraser - American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1965), pp. 78-79.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Venus Kallipygos" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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