Sculpture of Aphrodite (Venus Genetrix)

SKU X.0598

3rd Century AD


38″ (96.5cm) high x 15.5″ (39.4cm) wide x 9.5″ (24.1cm) depth





Gallery Location



Aphrodite was the symbol of female beauty and Goddess of Love, identified in Rome with Venus. Although Homer describes Aphrodite as the daughter of Zeus and Dion, the more popular view was that she was conceived in the foam of the ocean from the seed of Uranus. Dropped there when he was castrated, her name meaning “foam-born”. Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, but she loved Ares and she was known for her many love affairs; she also had affairs with various mortals – Adonis, Phaon, Anchises (by whom she bore Aeneias).

Aphrodite, the most beautiful woman in the world, inspired lust in all the humans and other creatures of the planet. No one could escape the traps that she set to amuse herself with the doings of love-crazed men and women. The passion which she planted in the human soul was the force that propelled fertilization and reproduction (Venus Genetrix). Her symbols were the laurel, the pomegranate, the dove, the swan, the hare and the ram, all of them connected with physical love and reproduction.

She is often depicted with her child Eros, and sometimes Peitho (Persuasion). She attends many scenes with a love interest – e.g., Menelaos confronting Helen after Troy. In Greek art from the 4th century BC onwards, she is commonly shown naked, the first artistic nude in the history of art, devised by the sculptor Praxiteles. On many vases a woman attended by Eros might be either the goddess or a mortal bride assimilated to her.

One of the most famous statuary compositions of antiquity, the “Venus Genetrix” was based on a Greek late fifth century BC model. Pliny, NH 35.155 describes a work by Arkesilaos, the Venus Genetrix cult statue for Caesar's Forum (begun in 51 B.C. and dedicated in 46 B.C.), which was dedicated before it was completed. The Venus labelled “Genetrix” on Hadrianic coins of the empress Sabina, which has been compared to the high classical type represented by the Aphrodite Frejus , is thus taken as the Venus Genetrix type mentioned by Arkesilaos, who may have been following an original sometimes attributed to Kallimachos. Neither attribution is certain, however.

This particular statue has a very refined high polish suggesting that it is more likely a Roman version. One of the finest versions that has been preserved, this statue is comparable to those in the Louvre, the Museo Nazionale in Naples, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Villa Borghese in Rome – see these and others illustrated in Margarete Bieber, Ancient Copies: Contributions to the History of Greek and Roman Art (New York, 1977), figs. 124 ff.; another figure in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is published by Mario A. Del Chiaro, Classical Art: Sculpture (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, nd), cat. no. 26, pp. 68-69.

This statue depicts Venus, the goddess of love and ancestral mother of the Romans, wearing a long diaphanous chiton, and a mantle that she is about to pull over her head with her right arm. The chiton that closely clings to the body contours giving the statue a highly sensual aspect has slipped off the left shoulder, exposing the goddess' breast. The mantle covers the upper back of the figure and has one section wrapped around the left arm, with the excess material falling in vertical pleats, close by the side of the body. The now missing left hand originally seems to have held an apple, the prize given to Venus by the shepherd Paris, when he rendered his judgment affirming that she was the most beautiful of all goddess.

cf. Pliny, NH 35.155. — Many “leaning Aphrodite” statues now considered copies of the Venus Genetrix type are thought to have represented the Alkamenes' Aphrodite in the Gardens.”Aphrodite in the Gardens” was Alkamenes' most admired work, according to Lucian Eikones 6, although Pliny (Pliny, HN 36.16) notes that Pheidias put the finishing touches on the statue.

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