Monday, May 31, 2010

Venus de Medicis - Comparing Artists

ORIGINAL STIPPLE ENGRAVING DATED 1819, Engraved by Mackenzie, Published by Rudolph Ackermann in London,1819
1810 Engraving of Venus de Medicis
Venus de Medicis from the Musee Francais drawn by Bouillon engraved by Massard.

Francois Perrier’s Venus Aphroditis Aphrodite Mediceis published in 1638

Simon Thomassin Venus de Medicis Roman Sculpture published in 1694

From The wonders of engraving By Georges Duplessis
Francois Perrier, Pierre Daret, Michel Lasne, and Claude Mellan also belonged to the school of Vouet and were influenced by him. Each one, however, had his own peculiar style of engraving. Francois Perrier, whose best piece is the portrait of Simon Vouet, was a painter also. His other numerous engravings are often poor, and fail to render the softness of the paintings of the French school at the beginning of the sixteenth century. We have already spoken of Daret, Lasne, and Mellan, amongst the engravers of crayons. We shall not review them again; the blame or praise already awarded applies equally to their line-engravings after Vouet or his imitators. We merely state that we consider the esteem in which the works of these engravers are held is somewhat exaggerated. Laurent de la Hyre and Francois Chanveau did not resist the influence of the all-powerful master, but they freed themselves in a measure from the yoke which oppressed the French school, and showed their independence in some engravings of exaggerated elegance, which remind us of the Bchool of Fontainebleau. They both employed etching; Laurent de la Hyre used almost too fine and thin a needle, and Chauveau cut into the copper rather too vigorously. He wasted his powers also in working for publishers who were anxious to profit by his proficiency, which was really great, and who cared more that he should produce many works, than good ones requiring care and reflection.

From A biographical dictionary of engravers from the earliest period of the art to the present time By Joseph Strutt

Flourished, 1680.
This artist was a native of France, and a descendant of the same family with the Philip Thomafiin, mentioned in the preceding article. He learned the principles of drawing and engraving in his own country, and was afterwards sent to Rome, and studied in the academy, founded by the French King for the use of young artists, who went for improvement from France to Italy. He worked with the graver alone ; and his style of engraving is exceedingly neat and clear, but too equally so, by which means the beauty of the effect is diminished, and his prints acquire a heavy laboured appearance, indicating the efforts of patience rather than the animated exertions-of an exalted genius. His drawing is executed in a mannered style, though, upon the whole, it is not incorrect; but the extremities of the figures are not marked with that lightness and freedom, which distinguish the hand of a great master. We have by him,
The transfiguration of Christ, a large upright plate, from Raphael, dated 1680. C. Cort, 'N. Dorigny, and several other artists, engraved from this picture.
A set of medals of great personages in France; in folio, dated 1696. In the inscriptions upon these plates he styles himself, Sculptor Regis.
The statues and other sculptures, which ornament the palace and the gardens at Versailles.
Also a considerable number of portraits, many of them exceedingly well engraved.
The Artist's Vade Mecum by Robert Sayer
Proportions of the Venus by Praxiteles
The Art Student's Guide to the Proportions of the Human Form, proportions of the Venus de Medicis

Fig. 1 . Phidias's statue of Pallas in the Parthenon in Athens 2.  The Medicean Venus 3.  The Venus of Melos 4.  The Venus of the Dresden Museum 5.  The Venus Victrix from Capua 6.  The Capitoline Venus 7.  Diana the Huntress in Paris 8.  Statue of Sallustia Barbara Urbana with Eros, in Rome 9.  Statue of Julia Soatmis in Rome 10. Sleep as a boy, in Dresden.

Manual of Ancient Sculpture by Pierre Paris
The first is signed by Kleomenes, son of Apollodoros the Athenian, but the inscription is untrustworthy. Moreover, the interest of the statue lies not in the inscription, but entirely in the subject and technique. The Venus de Medici is quite obviously the Venus of Praxiteles arranged to suit the taste of the Roman era. If nothing is altered in the typical attitude of the goddess rising from the sea, the impression produced upon the spectator is different. The innocent and na'Jve gesture, admired for its modesty by the devotees of Knidos, has now lost something of its chaste reserve. Like Virgil's shepherdess, who flies to the willows and yet wishes to be gazed at, Venus seems to veil herself the better to display her charms. She is no longer the goddess of Knidos, emerging from her mother-waves, but a young and coquettish mortal, who, whilst sporting in the bath, takes good care to display her beautiful figure and wonderfully dressed hair. Or, if she is a goddess, as the little love astride of a gamboling dolphin would seem to indicate, the Olympus where she dwells is no longer the Olympus of Pheidias and Praxiteles. The fact is, that the artist has ceased to believe in Venus and in Olympus ; he does not respect the goddess whom he creates, one who ought never to receive the vows of any worshipper in a temple. He only works to charm the eyes by the brilliance and grace of a naked woman; and as he had incomparable mastery of the chisel, and as the fine, amber-coloured Parian marble lends itself under his hands to all the delicacy of breathing flesh, the work rises to be ranked as one of the finest. At Florence, in the centre of the Tribune, that celebrated salon whose narrow space encloses canonical masterpieces enough to make twenty museums famous, the Venus de Medici, before all, attracts and captivates a certain class of spectator by its very studied self-conscious perfection.

Sketches of the fair sex, in all parts of the world: to which are added rules for determining the precise figure, the degree of beauty, and the age of women notwithstanding the ids and disguises of dress.

The Venus de Medici at Florence is the most perfect specimen of ancient sculpture remaining; and is spoken of as the Model of Female Beauty, it was so much a favorite of the Greeks and Romans, that a hundred ancient repetitions of this statue have been noticed by travellers. This statue is said to have been found in the forum of Octavia at Rome. It represents woman at that age when every beauty has just been perfected.
"The Venus de Medici at Florence," says a distinguished writer, " is like a rose which, after a beautiful daybreak, expands its leaves to the first ray of the sun, and represents that age when the limbs assume a more finished form and the breast begins to develop itself."
The size of the head is sufficiently small to leave that predominance to the vital organs in the chest, which, as already said, makes the nutritive system peculiarly that of woman. This is the first and most striking proof of the profound knowledge of the artist, the principles of whose art taught him that a vast head is not a constituent of female beauty. In mentioning the head it is scarcely possible to avoid noticing the rich curls of hair.
The eyes next fix our attention by their soft, sweet, and glad expression. This is produced with exquisite art. To give softness, the ridges of the eyebrows are rounded. To give sweetness, the under eyelid, which I would call the expressive one, is slightly raised. To give the expression of gladness or of pleasure, the opening of the eyelids is diminished, in order to diminish, or partially to exclude, the excess of those impressions, which make even pleasure painful. Other exquisite details about those eyes, confer on them unparallelled beauty. Still, this look is far from those traits indicative of lasciviousness, with which some modem artists have thought to characterize their Venuses.
Art still profounder was perhaps shown in the configuration of the nose. The peculiar connexion of this sense with love was evidently well understood by the artist. Not only is smell peculiarly associated with love, in all the higher animals, but it is associated with reproduction in plants, the majority of which evolve delicious odors only when the flowers or organs of fructification are displayed. Connected, indeed, with the capacity of the nose, and the cavities which open into it, is the projection of the whole middle part of the face.
The mouth is rendered sweet and delicate by the lips being undeveloped at their angles, and by the upper lip continuing so, for a considerable portion of its length, i! expresses love of pleasure by the central development of both lips, and active love by the especial development of the lower lip. By the slight opening of the lips, it expresses desire.
These exquisite details, and the omission of nothing intellectually expressive that nature presents, have led some to imagine the. Venus de Medici to be a portrait In doing so, however, they see not the profound calculation for every feature thus embodied. More strangely still, they forget the ideal character of the whole: the notion of this ideal head being too small, is especially opposed to such an opinion.
Withal, the look is amorous, and languishing, without being lascivious, and is as powerfully marked by gay coquetry, as by charming innocence.
The young neck is exquisitely formed. Its beautiful curves show a thousand capabilities of motion; and its admirably-calculated swell over the organ of voice, results from, and marks the struggling expression of still mysterious love.
With regard to the rest of the figure, the admirable form of the mammae, which, without being too large, occupy the bosom, rise from it with various curves on every side, and all terminate in their apices, leaving the inferior part in each precisely as pendent as gravity demands; the flexile waist gently tapering little farther than the middle of the trunk; the lower portion of it beginning gradually to swell out higher even than the umbilicus; the gradual expansion of the haunches, those expressive characteristics of the female, indicating at once her fitness for the office of generation and that of parturition—expansions which increase till they reach their greatest extent at the superior part of the thighs; the fulness behind their upper part, and on each side of the lower part of the spine, commencing as high as the waist, and terminating in the still greater swell of the distinctly-separated hips; the flat expanse between these, and immediately over the fissure of the hips, relieved by a considerable dimple on each side, and caused by the elevation of all the surrounding parts ; the fine swell of the broad abdomen which, soon reaching its greatest height immediately under the umbilicus, slopes neatly to the mons veneris, but, narrow at its upper part, expands more widely as it descends, while, throughout, it is laterally distinguished by a. gentle depression from the more muscular parts on the, sides of the pelvis; the beautiful elevation of the mons veneris; the contiguous elevation of the thighs which, almost at their commencement rise as high as it does ; the admirable expansion of these bodies inward, or toward each other, by which they almost seem to intrude upon each other, and to exclude each from its respective place; the general narrowness of the upper, and the unembraceable expansion of the lower part thus exquisitely formed ;—all these admirable characteristics of female form, the mere existence of which in woman must, one is tempted to imagine, be even to herself, a source of ineffable pleasure—these constitute a being worthy, as the personification of beauty, of occupying the temples of Greece; present an object finer, alas! than nature seems even capable of producing; and offer to all nations and ages a theme of admiration and delight
Current Literature - a magazine of record 1893
The London News
If anything is safe in this iconoclastic age it might be supposed to be the reputation for beauty and grace of the Venus de Medicis. More than two centuries have elapsed since this famous piece of sculpture was unearthed on the site of Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, and since then connoisseurs of all nations have joined in doing homage to the ancient sculptor's skill. How many visitors to the Uffizi gallery at Florence have stood, Murray or Appleton in hand, gazing at the undraped figure without a thought of questioning these learned persons! But of late years there have been sceptics daring enough to class this with the Apollo Belvedere as a sample of ancient art that has been "monstrously overrated," and now comes no less an authority than Mr. Holman Hunt to assure us that
the Venus de Medicis, to use a proper phrase, " won't do." There is a little anecdote attaching to this expression of opinion. Some years ago at the house of Sir Richard Owen, the great naturalist, Mr. Hunt met that professor of sanitary science, the late Sir Edwin Chadwick, who began a conversation thus: "As a commissioner of health I must profess myself altogether opposed to the artistic theory of beauty. There is the Venus de Medicis, which you artists regard as giving the perfect type of female form. I should require that a typical statue with such pretension should bear evidence of perfect power of life, with steady prospect of a health and signs of mental vigor, but she has neither. Her chest is narrow, indicating unrobust lungs; her limbs are without evidence of due training of muscles, her shoulders are not well braced up, and her cranium and her face, too, are deficient in all traits of intellect. She would be a miserable mistress of a house and a contemptible mother." But the listener assured the sage critic that he had made a most artistic criticism of the statue, and that his auditor would join in every word as to his standard of requirements. Mr. Hunt was aware, he said, that he was talking heresy to the mass of persons who accepted the traditional jargon of the cognoscenti on trust, but in his opinion "the work belongs to the decadence of Roman virtue and vitality, and its merit lies alone in the rendering of a voluptuous being without mind or soul! " If no authorities of equal weight will stand forth in defence of this marble lady it is to be feared that the famous Venus de Medicis will soon be ranked among imposters. The strange part of the matter is that it has taken 213 years to find her out.

The Venus at The National Arts Club - The Critic and Literary World 1905
The Venus at the National Arts Club
"Aphrodite, with the girdle over her hand, a dolphin by her side. Greek work in Paros marble, by Praxiteles. This Venus explains the Venus de Medici, and may be the original." This inscription, displayed in the National Arts Club, created intense interest and excitement, for hitherto the only undisputed example of the actual work of the Greek sculptor Praxiteles has been the Hermes from Olympia. To all intents and purposes the figure to which the card was attached might be a copy in chocolate-stained marble of the Venus de Medici. Since that famous statue, also known as the Aphrodite in Florence, is accepted as a poor Roman imitation of a greater work by Praxiteles, then proving the New York Venus a genuine antique and a virtual duplicate of the Venus de Medici, with the latter's limitations, would rank the present statue only as a second Roman copy of an unknown Greek original. To satisfy the announcement that the statue here is Greek, and as such of worth exceeding the one in Florence there must be shown more than historical probability as to its antiquity, besides a beauty of modelling far ahead of the Medicean Venus.
The New York Venus is the property of Mr. Frederick Linton, who placed it in the Arts Club at the request of Mr. Charles de Kay. Of its history Mr. Linton will only say that it was brought to his notice in London by Signer Orselli, a painter who had seen it on a vessel lying in the Mediterranean docks. Though the owner at that time, an English resident of Italy, dared not tell where he had found it, Mr. Linton purchased the work. Shortly after, in 1897, he showed it to Professor Allen Marquand, of Princeton, who, while impressed, was sceptical as to its originality, since it was carved from a single block, contrary to the Greek custom, and since the amulet was of a Byzantine rather than a Hellenic design. Later, Mr. Linton made an unsuccessful attempt to place the statue in the World's Fair at Chicago, and also, it is understood, in the Metropolitan Museum, where it was refused by Mr. George H. Story, the present acting director. From that time till this winter it lay in a storage warehouse in New York.
Mr. de Kay wrote an eulogistic letter to the New York Times concerning the statue shortly after it was set up in the Arts Club. Then the papers, acting on the hint, discussed its originality and beauty with a vim that brought crowds to see it. Never has a single work of art attracted such attention in this city. A number of experts, among whom were Sir C. Purdon Clarke, the new director of the Metropolitan Museum, looked at the work but were noncommittal in their remarks. Startling opinions were ascribed to Signor Ettore Pai's, Professor of Ancient History and Classical Antiquity in the National University of Naples who is now in this country. But in answer to a letter asking if it was true that he had vouched for the antiquity and origin of the Arts Club Venus, he wrote:
I am not well and hence cannot write at length nor in my judgment could the matter be treated in a few words without giving reason. Since I have had a number of requests of the same kind I shall write later on the question. As to the absurdity published in the papers about me I shall naturally assume no responsibility.
Greeks beyond number made affidavit that the marble came from the island of Paros, but that does not of necessity mean that the work is antique. Finally Dr. Henry Stephens Washington, an expert petrographist who for the last five years has been studying marbles in Greece, examined the stone closely and contradicted the opinions of the Greeks by saying that to his mind the marble was not Parian, Carraran, or Pentelic. On seeing the numerous flaws in the block he added that he believed that a man like Praxiteles would have taken a perfect piece of marble of less close texture, as did his contemporaries, but that the whole subject was one for sculptors to decide. Accordingly several of the most prominent American sculptors were asked by The Critic to give their opinions. In two cases they would only be quoted anonymously.
The first reply is from a man well known for his recent equestrian statues. 
My opinion is that it is certainly not from the hand of Praxiteles, and, moreover, that it is not the original work of any sculptor, but that it is a copy. 1 arrived at my conclusions from the character of the modelling, which has not the precision and vigor of handling that characterizes original work. I sometimes doubt if any expert opinion is final.
Another sculptor of prominence wrote:
Unless some scientific examination, microscopic or otherwise, would reveal how long ago the surface was cut, no one can tell whether or not the Venus is a modern copy. It is so perfect, I mean has so few abrasions, that I feel almost certain it is a modern copy of the one at the gallery in Florence, with both its beauties and its defects. For in the two cases the arms are badly drawn and the lower legs and feet rather ungainly, though the rest of the figure possesses unusual charm, particularly the profiles. In both cases too the head is by no means as beautiful as many of the Greek heads. The Medicean Venus, in fact, is not one of the great ten or twenty antiques; perhaps it would be nearer to say not one of the first thirty or forty. It is wonderfully placed and lighted in the gallery of Florence and of a color that adds to the fullness of its beauty. This, coupled with the reputation given it by the poets and literati, has exalted it beyond its real merits from a sculptor's point of view. If the statue under discussion is an original it is, of course, of great value; if not, it has the worth of an admirable copy, so comparatively easy to make. This question all the experts in the world cannot decide unless positive evidence of its finding is given. I could copy this Venus with the aid of a machine, have the replica buried with the original, and when they were dug up, some years later, not be able to tell them apart myself. It all resumes itself into this being as beautiful a work as the Venus de Medici, but some do not consider that statue the highest Greek art, and we do not know whether this Venus is ancient or modern.
Mr. Herbert Adams, well known for his marble busts, and as a sculptor who
does much of his own marble cutting, answered:
The Aphrodite lately shown at the Arts Club seems to me to possess much grace and beauty. The back is well modelled, the figure has many subtle and interesting lines, and the color of the marble is charming. On the other hand, the head is without character, the arms are crude, and the feet, whether meant to be ideal or naturalistic, are ugly and unsuccessful.
As to its period, the statue might have been executed at almost any time. Yet it certainly lacks the amplitude and dignity of the Hellenic school. It is much more characteristic of the Renaissance. It might have been made yesterday, copied with slight modification from the Venus de Medici. Without question there are to-day in Italy, France, and America, too, numbers of men even without reputation as sculptors, who, with a plaster cast of the Venus de Medici as a model, could produce a statue equal in beauty to this Aphrodite. Whoever carved this model used tools which made the same kind of cut as is made by the tools we employ to-day, and his mechanical methods of work were also very similar to ours. The statue has been so perfectly preserved that this is clearly shown.
We need not doubt the absolute sincerity of those who proclaim this figure as a Praxiteles, but in this age of clever fabrication we cannot without proof accept it as a Praxiteles or even as a Greek antique, particularly since we observe that it lacks the qualities that distinguish the best Greek sculpture. The unevenness of the workmanship and the perfect preservation of the statue tend to made us skeptical, nor would proving the marble to be antique show that the statue itself is antique.
The ill-advised mystery thrown about this Aphrodite has had, at least, the effect of drawing the public to look at a statue of much beauty.
Mr. Solon H. Borglum has also replied in a way to coincide with Mr. Adams:
The Aphrodite is certainly a beautiful piece of work. The impression of the spirit of the pose of the figure is fine, antique or copy.
As to its originality, I may say that there is much doubt in my mind about it. As for its discovery, it has not been traced clearly enough up till now. The reproduction of antiques is so much practised now that such a statue ought to be accepted as an original only when the historical proofs are to be found.
There is also one thing : it lacks the blemishes brought by time and weather which are marked on antique marbles even when they have been indoors.
While admitting the beauty of the work, the sculptors insist that in the merits and faults of modelling it duplicates the Florentine statue, that the nature of the stone has nothing to do with the antiquity of the sculpture, that the color is peculiar, that the breakages are marvellously few, and the surface marvellously smooth for a Greek or Roman production, that, as far as they can tell, it was made by a modern process, and that as a whole they decline to commit themselves as to whether it be ancient or modern. From an artistic standpoint then there is no reason to place the statue before the Medicean Venus or even to think it unusually old. Also the stone experts have no power to say that the work is ancient, though one remarks that it is strange that so faulty a piece should have been used by a sculptor of prominence. It rests, then, with historical evidence to support a title to anything more than beauty. Yet the already told fragmentary history, coming through Mr. Linton's hands, hardly can be accepted as sufficient, for a claim of such quality demands accurate details as to the place and manner of finding. So here is a statue with no apparent pretension to be thought the work of Praxiteles that has yet to be proved to be even a contemporary of the Venus de Medici. If it is such, it must be of great worth from an acha^ological view-point. Taken on its merits it is a work of extreme beauty, but otherwise deserving no more regard than that due to any modern copy of the Venus de Medici such as the one in the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts.

Andrew Bell engraving of Venus de Medici from the 3rd edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica

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