Lely’s Venus (Aphrodite) – Assignment 2 research

In preparation for the two annotations for assignment two I thought I’d do some more research on the Venus I saw in the British Museam.

I’ve prepared a large version of the photo to annotate which is compirsed of a series of images providing an ‘all around’ view. To see the large view click the image.

Lely’s Venus (Aphrodite), sculpture 1963.10-29.1. All round view
Lely’s Venus (Aphrodite), sculpture 1963.10-29.1. All round view

Aphrodite to the Greeks, Venus to the Romans. The beautiful goddess has been depicted nude numerous times across the ages in sculpture and paintings. It all started when the Aphrodite of Cnidus by Praxiteles (c.350 BC) was made. The first monumental female nude in classical sculpture, challenging the accepted norm at that time because only the male Greek sculptures were nude (perhaps reflecting a rising social status of women). It was placed in a shrine in the Aphrodite temple at Knidos in south-western Turkey and has inspired and affected the course of female depiction in art ever since.

Some of these statues show Aphrodite attempting to cover her nakedness with her hands which only succeeds in drawing the viewer’s eye towards the sexual areas. In this marble statue known as the Crouching Venus or Lely’s Venus, she is crouched down bathing (denoted by the water pot attribute by her feet) and she is turning her head (and body slightly) as though surprised by someone, prompting her to cover herself, with her right arm bent in front her body and her left arm resting on her left leg. She has a typical Hellenistic hairstyle, an elaborate top-knot, with her hair hanging down over her left shoulder leading the eye around the sculpture. She also has an armband on, I’m assuming this is typical too but I have not seen it specifically mentioned anywhere that I’ve read about. This statue is a 2nd AD Roman copy (Antonine period) of a Greek Original from 200 BC, where the original was made to be seen in-the-round but this sculpture was clearly intended for a corner or niche because the backside of it is only basically roughed out.

It’s known as the Lely Venus after the painter Sir Peter Lely  (1618-80) who owned the statue in the 17th century, probably to distinguish it from other Crouching Aphrodite/Venus sculptures. It was in the collection of the Gonzaga family, Mantua, where it was inventoried in the Gonzaga collection in 1627. It was to deeply affect Peter Paul Rubens during his time there. It was acquired by King Charles I (an avid collector of Roman antiquities), sold by Duke Vincenzo II of Mantua.

“It was put on sale after Charles I’s execution and is listed in the Commonwealth Sale Inventory of 1650 (lot 10, fol. 61v) in the section headed ‘statues being hole figures’: ’88: Sellena hole figure bigger than ye life £600′. It was bought by the artist Peter Lely. By 1682 it had returned to the Royal Collection.”(Royal Collection Trust, 2016)

Since 1963 it has been on long term loan to the British Museum.



Beard, M. and Henderson J. (2001) Classical Art: from Greece to Rome.Oxford Univerity Press
Burnett Grossman, J. (2003) Looking at Greek and Roman Sculpture in stone.Getty

Gersht, R. (2001) Aquatic Figure Types from Caesarea-Maritima, Department of Art History, Tel Aviv University (available at: http://www5.tau.ac.il/arts/departments/image/stories/journals/arthistory/Assaph6/03gersht.pdf)
(Accessed on 30 April 16)

Google Cultural Institute. (2016) Statue of crouching Aphrodite (‘Lely’s Venus’) At: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/statue-of-crouching-aphrodite-lely-s-venus/EwH3FgUUteypiA?projectId=art-project
(Accessed on 29 April 16)

Grout. (2015) Aphrodite of Cnidus At: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/hetairai/aphrodite.htm
(Accessed on 30 April 16)

Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

National Gallery of Art. (2016) Rubens, Peter Paul, Sir At: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/artist-info.1847.html
(Accessed on 30 April 16)

Royal Collection Trust. (2016) Aphrodite or ‘Crouching Venus’ At: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/near-you#/7/collection/69746/aphrodite-or-crouching-venus
(Accessed on 30 April 16)



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