The Capitoline Venus

Capitoline Venus

Title: Capitoline Venus
Artist: From an original by Praxiteles
Date: 4th century BC
Medium: Marble
Dimensions: 193 cm. high
Location: Capitoline Museum, Rome


“Venus herself, as oft as she lays aside her robes, half stooping covers with her left hand her modesty.”
– Ovid, Art of Love (University of Chicago)

This statue of the goddess Venus is historically hailed as the primary prototype of female nudes in sculpture. Her discreet contrapposto stance emphasizes her femininity; her hands covering her most private anatomy highlight the allure of the implied scene. Here we have stumbled upon the epitome of divine loveliness in the classical mind. Rising out of her bath, Venus is poised gracefully, suspending the reality of the moment that we as viewers are sharing with her. There is something very intimate in her posture, yet her gaze transfixes with a calm and reserve that at first seems out of place in this private scene. Venus appears facially contemplative, almost absent even. Physically, however, the goddess is highly aware of the vulnerability of the moment and of the power she subtly commands over her viewers. The gesture of her hands seems almost to accentuate her nudity, rather than conceal it. Yet the goddess is not brazen; instead, Venus appears distant in her sensuousness.

The Capitoline Venus struck me as a unique depiction of divinity. Although many copies of her posture have been made, this early representation of the goddess bathing makes her seem all the more approachable and human, and yet at the same time highly otherworldly and unapproachable. Her exposure is intimate, yet almost intimidating in its revelation. The goddess is simultaneously brought down to a more tangible, human level through her almost coy posture. This is counteracted, however, by the far-away look on her lovely face. Venus belongs to a place beyond the earthly, and truly is she called “goddess.” This contrast is subtly emphasized by the disparity between her casual nakedness and her elaborate hair. Similar to the contrast between her facial and physical expressions, the difference between the contrived grace of Venus’ hair and the natural beauty of her body also prompts a complex reaction in the viewer. The goddess demands our attention, almost nonchalantly, and yet completely.

Here the water in the scene is not overtly incorporated into the sculpture, but is instead implied by elements such as the water vessel, the draped clothing recently discarded by the goddess, and the bathing posture of Venus herself. By only implying the water, this bathing vision is all the more sensual, as the viewer must focus on the glory of the goddess’s body itself, free from peripheral distractions. This adds to the intimacy of the moment, as there is nothing to conceal Venus from her viewers. Yet the goddess is unperturbed at our interruption, allowing us to drink in her regal loveliness in its most vulnerable moments in the context of her bathing. It is in her vulnerability that Venus has us most completely in her power; her thoughtful countenance implies her awareness of the influence the alluring scene conveys. Mysterious in her vulnerable sensuality, the goddess is the one in control of our interaction.

Capitoline Venus. Photograph. Capitoline Museum, Rome, Italy. Web. 2 Apr 2012.

“The Capitoline Venus.” University of Chicago. Web. 2 Apr 2012.


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