Paris Tips: Meet my friend Venus

Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Melos) X 2 Photos by Theadora Brack

Venus Paparazzi at the Louvre

By Theadora Brack

Whenever I’m having a challenging day, I hotfoot it over to the Louvre. Here I find peace and tranquility, while hobnobbing it with all my favorite Greeks—the solid marble kind, I mean! So for the love of exquisite inspiration, this week let’s celebrate Venus!

Here’s the scoop

First, let’s wind it back to the 18th century: the Greek revival style has already captured Europe’s fancy, especially in France. Classical Greek styling dominates music, architecture, art, and fashion. Illustrated travelogues are snatched up and bought as quickly as they are written. Globe trekkers and fashion enthusiasts of that day got their classical fix in salons and museums, and for the first time ever, art institutions have begun attracting visitors from all walks of life. The heart squeals!

Live to Tell

But like the Olympic Games ceremonies, every successful museum had to have classical showstoppers to attract the biggest crowds. Although Napoleon hadn’t been a hot lover of art, he’d considered it part of his role as conqueror to “collect” the best from every country he dominated. In fact, Louvre director Dominique-Vivant Denon often joined him in newly acquired territories, sometimes even scooping up masterpieces while the battles were still taking place. Imagine if eBay had existed back then.

I can see your halo

Oh, Venus

Then came Waterloo, and we all know what that means. France’s empire went into a tailspin, and her enemies reclaimed more than five thousand stolen works, including the prized Venus de Medici—until then, the toast of the town. “We are still rich,” insisted, Louis XVIII in 1816, but that didn’t change the fact that neither his museum nor the nation of France still owned a real Venus to call their own—or even a real classical Greek sculpture. Enter Venus de Milo in 1821, like a prayer!

The prequel

The Venus de Milo (also known in some circles as “Aphrodite of Melos”) had been lost for milennia in the underground world of the island of Melos before a local farmer and a French naval officer rediscovered her, deep in the ruins of an ancient Greek gymnasium.

A year later, she arrived at the Musée du Louvre in the dead of winter, dirt stained, and scarred from when her original niche had collapsed some two millennia earlier. Her nose was broken, a chunk of her wavy chiffon hair bun was missing, and according to some stories, her arms had gone missing during a scuffle when they were loading the boat to bring her to France. But after a thorough cleaning and a hip and foot restoration, the Goddess of Love made her debut when she was presented to the king and world as the epitome of classical Greek beauty. No one puts Venus in a corner!

Ava Gardner, One Touch of Venus  (1948)

Go figure

“I’m a little bit this and a little bit that,” she might have said to her puzzled curators. Her perfectly proportioned head and upper torso—hallmarks of Classical Greece—didn’t jive with the sweep of her stomach or the weight of her heavily draped hips. Those were purely Hellenistic.

By now, of course, Hellenistic art is no longer considered substandard, and the truth about Venus’s background is out. Despite restoration work and occasional temporary moves due to wars or gallery repairs, her popularity has kept on growing.

What’s your desire?

By the late 19th century, souvenir postcards of the armless siren were already out-selling those of all stage actresses combined. Thousands of replicas made of marble, plaster, and terra cotta were mass-produced at a conveyor belt-breaking rate and sold, collected and coveted all over the world.

Shopping Tip! Want a Venus to call your own? I often spot her replica “Mini-Me” statues at the Paris flea markets and brocantes. Also, I recently scored a fine vintage bottle of “Secret de Venus” by Weil. Created in 1938, its hour-glass shape  is also a stunner!

Venus still receives some eight million visitors a year—or 7,000,988, if you subtract my monthly pilgrimages. Of course she’s not the only Greek I visit. There’s also Atalanta, Psyche, Cupid, Diana of Versailles,and the equally famous Nike of Samothrace (Winged Victory)—just to name a few.

Stay tuned for more profiles!

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47 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Meet my friend Venus

    • Yes, I knew you would find your Venus!! Your post “The Ruins of Selinunte” was FABULOUS!! I am enjoying reading your reports from the “field” and ruins. Beautiful shots. Keep loving among the ruins! Theadora

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  1. Ah, it’s all Greek to me! Except after reading your delightful posts. The photos are great! The Venus paparazzi made me chuckle and I love what you did with the last three photos of the statue! As inspiring as inspirational and fun to boot!

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    • Merci, Paul. I feel the same way about your photography and “Paris by Cellphone” site. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again! Theadora (Yes, both Venus and Mona Lisa have huge paparazzi entourages!)

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  2. Wow, this is new insight on Venus for me, Theadora! I’ve been to the Louvre a couple of times and has marveled at the sight of Venus but next time with all these new insights from you, I’ll be looking at her differently. 😉

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    • Thanks, Malou!! Thinking of your love of color, here’s another tidbit: Venus was a painted lady! Her eyes and lips were probably painted red, while her hair was most likely gilded or painted yellow. Imagine! Theadora

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  3. T – You have a way with words, girl! Such a lovely romp through a piece of history I knew little about. Thank you.

    Can’t wait for your take on my favourite – Musée Rodin!

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    • Ah, the Musée Rodin!! I love the museum. I love the gardens. I love the love triangle story. It’s the perfect place to go, while shaking off the jet lag blues. Let the brainstorming start. . . T. (Thanks!!)

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  4. Oui! Oui! Being an art educator, I always enjoy a squeal of art history. Talk about sexy! Did Venus borrow your white hat? And your “header” mannequin’s nose sort of resembles hers, too. I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed that you’ll take a romp through the Musee d’Orsay and write a tidbit about Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) where another sort of Venus captures attention! Nice work, T!

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    • Thank you, Ms. A.! I scored the matching felt hat and dress at the flea market for a few cents. Both are handmade. You should see the stitching. It’s magnificent! Musee d’Orsay! Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) is a favorite. Thanks for the suggestion!! Do stay tuned. . . T.

      (By the way, have you taken your students to the Orange Show or Art Car Show in Houston?)

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    • Oh, yes. You would totally enjoy the Fleas, brocantes and vintage clothing shops. The vintage garb is still pretty darn affordable! Theadora (I recently purchased a 1950s tie by Schiaparelli. I was pleased as punch. It was a steal.)

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      • i can totally picture myself at the flea markets! When I visited Sweden we went to some pretty good flea markets there. I got a cute picture that I hang in my hall.

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      • Shop early! And go in with an open mind and plenty of cash. Never know when you might find an unexpected “bargain.” Cheers!

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  5. This is your best post yet. I enjoyed every word. I mean it. Not being even remotely ironic this time.

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    • Krista! Paparazzi, indeed! How close were you able to get to Venus? Elbows come in handy, eh?! T. (Did you stop by the gift shop? The Louvre often discounts their exhibition books and magazines. I’ve spent entire afternoons browsing in the musée boutique!)

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      • I’ll have to dig it out. Venus had been temporarily relocated, so I was able to get behind her and shoot the people shooting her. Museum boutiques are always dangerous for me. The one at Musée des arts decoratifs is particularly lovely. And dangerous.

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    • Thanks, Brigitte! I’m now trying to track down Ava Gardner’s “A Touch of Venus.” It’s about an antique dealer who falls for his “Venus” statue. Looks corny. Looks adorable! T.

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  6. Exotic, erotic, exciting, entertaining, engrossing, exceptional – truly a “stunner”. That’s why
    “nobody puts Venus in a corner”. Virginia

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    • Merci, Virginia! Yes, I think Venus is now “having the time of her life” at the Louvre! Where is Johnny when you need him? Theadora (On the flip side, I bet Venus is sorely missing her armbands, necklaces, earrings and tiara. According to my reading, only one of the attachment holes survived.)

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  7. Pingback: I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty! « Brigitte's Banter

    • Wow! I checked out your post. Fablous!! I love it. Both the Andrea Cohen poem and the photographs. Yes, sometimes less is more. Did you create the “armed” pics? Bravo!! Theadora

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  8. Another great story, Theadora. we both love Paris, but it’s wonderful for me to see through different eyes!

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      • Not really—-depends on our mood and who we are with. But some of the top contenders are Marmottan, Arts et Metiers, Rodin

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  9. Very much enjoyed this post! It does make me want to visit the Louvre again (only have been there once). You are very fortunate to be able to visit it often…

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  10. Pingback: Paris: Art + Fragrance = A Shocking Good Time « People, Places and Bling!

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