Venus (Aphrodite)

Venus (Aphrodite)
Beth Shean, Israel
Roman period, 2nd century CE
Marble from Aphrodisias, Asia Minor, pigment
H: 159 cm; W: 60 cm
Israel Antiquities Authority
Excavated by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Photo © IMJ, by Avraham Hay
Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was accepted and worshiped by the Romans, who knew her as Venus. Statues of her were common, most of them based on Praxiteles' nude statue of Aphrodite from the fourth century BCE, which was used as a source for copies and various prototypes during the Roman period. This exquisitely carved statue of Aphrodite was found in the excavations of the eastern bathhouse in the center of the Roman city of Nysa Scythopolis - Beth Shean. It was a splendid city, and at its center were public buildings in keeping with Hellenistic and Roman traditions: temples, bathhouses, a nymphaeum, a theater, colonnades, and squares paved with stone and mosaic. The goddess is depicted in the nude and is life size, although the head has not survived. Her voluptuous body is naturalistic and there is an emphasis on anatomical details and movement. A support carved along her legs takes the form of Eros as a chubby winged boy riding a dolphin. The goddess' right hand seemingly protects her breasts, while the left tries to hide her pubis. This sculptural position, later known as Venus pudica (modest), is well known from the many copies of Roman statues. Some see this position as the opposite of modesty - that is to say, as emphasizing her sexuality, which symbolizes her role as goddess of love. The statue's style fits the second century BCE, and it was probably carved in one of the sculpture workshops in Asia Minor and brought from there to Beth Shean. It is unique in the unusual level of preservation of its ancient color decoration: red paint remains on Aphrodite's hair, nipples, navel, and pubis; the bracelets on her arms; and the hair and eyebrows of the boy. Eros' wings are touched with yellow and blue; and the dolphin and sea waves were highlighted in red, yellow, and blue. Clearly the traditional image of Classical statuary in shiny white marble is erroneous, for both were painted in a wide range of bright colors.
The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005