- Museum number
Parian marble statue of Venus.
- Production date
Height: 1.06 metres
Height: 1070 millimetres
Width: 330 millimetres
Depth: 350 millimetres
- Curator's comments
Roman version based on a Greek type of the 4th century BC. The arms were wrongly restored by the English sculptor Nollekens.
Cook 2013, nr. 147:
Townley's description; ‘A statue near four feet high of a Venus or Leda; most part of the arms being lost, and the composition being unique, the subject is uncertain; a remnant appears upon the chin of something that was probably held in one or both the hands; the hair is encircled with several folds of bandage, and the feet are covered with sandals. It was found 1775 at Ostia’ (TY 12/3, library 6).
When first mentioned by Hamilton the statue lacked its head (letter dated 6 April 1775, TY 7/585), but on 21 April Hamilton lost no time in reporting that it had been found (TY 7/587). Both arms and one foot were still missing on 10 May (TY 7/588). On 27 May, having had no success in his search for the missing pieces, Hamilton proposed restoration (TY 7/589). The work was done promptly: on 17 June Hamilton promised a cast and a sketch (TY 7/591), and on 5 July he reported that the statue was already cased, without having been seen by Visconti, who had recently refused an export licence for a head of the elder Faustina that Hamilton had sent to Cavaceppi for restoration (TY 7/592). The promised sketch was sent on 17 August (with TY 7/593). The statue was shipped on Stag, arriving in London on 29 October; on the following day Townley wrote: ‘The Venus exceeds much any idea I could have formed of her; it is a most beautiful object, and a very fine piece of art’ (TY 7/597/2).
Despite this initial enthusiasm, Townley was already becoming dissatisfied with Hamilton’s restoration of the arms. Hamilton defended his restoration with the hands holding a piece if drapery in a letter dated 17 December (TY 7/600; Townley drawing 2010,5006.114). Townley’s proposal that the statue should be restored holding a looking-glass and a strigil met with Hamilton’s disapproval, the former attribute being anachronistic and the latter ‘indelicate’. A later proposal led Hamilton to comment: ‘I am afraid you will spoil that sweet Venus of Ostia by the new restoration, all I beg of you is that you doe not touch the marble till I see a drawing of the alteration’ (TY 7/615, 29 August 1776). On 10 April 1777 Townley paid Hamilton 6 Scudi ‘for a cast of ye little Ostia Venus’ and 4.10 Scudi for a mould and casts of the new arms, with a further payment on 15 April for modelling the arms (TY 8/51, fos. 2v and 4r). Hamilton later referred to the statue as ‘Venus holding a mirrour’ (TY 7/638, cf. Smith, JHS 21 (1901), 316). The present restoration is the work of Nollekens, the model for the arms being J. T. Smith, who was later Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. The pose cannot be correct since it does not account for the puntello on the chin, as Hamilton anticipated in TY 7/600.
Townley’s interpretation of the subject varied over the years. Until the early 1780s the statue was consistently identified as Venus (correspondence and The First Townley Inventory), but in documents dated around 1784-8 it appears as Venus or Leda (TY 10/3, List of drawings, ca. 1786, TY 12/3), and from about 1795 onwards Townley suggested Angerona as an alternative to Venus (Parlour Catalogue owned by Simon Towneley, TY 12/19, TY 12/5, 1804 Parlour Catalogue). Angerona was a Roman goddess who enjoined silence by touching her finger to her lips (digito ad os admoto silentium denuntiat, Macrobius 3, 9, 4). Townley explained the identification: ‘The denomination of Angerona is given to this figure, because a Puntella remained on the chin, which indicated, that the right hand had been applied towards the mouth, by which action, denotive of silence, Isis was represented in her inactive state; and the Venus, Ceres, & Proserpine of the Greeks, when exhibited in that inactive character, were represented in the same attitude under the name of Angerona’ (1804 Parlour Catalogue, library 7). Combe retained the name Angerona in his receipt (TY 18/6), but later reverted to Hamilton’s original identification simply as Venus (Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum 1808). On Angerona, see Fulvio Canciani in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae I, 792-3.
This is one of the items listed in an account from Hamilton dated 27 May 1775 (TY 8/110). Also included are the ‘Egeria or sleeping nymph’ at £150 and a ‘Collossal head of Faustina the Elder’ at £60. Neither was accepted by Townley, and the joint total of £210 was deducted from Hamilton’s next account dated 11 October 1775 (TY 8/111). The ‘Egeria’ was eventually sold to the Duke of Dorset and is now at Knole.
Original not before late Hellenistic (Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae)
* Townley drawings 2010,5006.42; 2010,5006.95, attributed to Nollekens; and 2010,5006.114, holding drapery and probably therefore to be attributed to Hamilton, see his letter dated 17 December 1775, TY 7/600; 2010,5006.1616 and 1617 (both signed WWD 1776); 2010,5006.101 (unattributed) and 2010,5006.115 (unattributed) and 2010,5006.36.
* Zoffany: B. F. Cook, `The Townley Marbles in Westminster and Bloomsbury', The British Museum Yearbook, 2 (1977), 36-37, figs. 19-20, no. 18.
- Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum (1808) III.22.
- Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, II, pl. 22.
- A Guide to the Graeco-Roman Sculptures in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities (Synopsis of the Contents of the British Museum) (2 vols., London 1874 [2nd ed. 1879] and 1876), I, no. 185.
- A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, Vol. III (London 1904), 29-30 no. 1577.
- Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, II, 81 s.v. Aphrodite no. 729* (bibl.).
- B. F. Cook, The Townley Marbles (London 1985), 20, 22, fig. 19
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2009, 2 Apr-13 Oct, Alicante, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2010, 30 Apr-30 Aug, Seoul, National Museum of Korea, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2010-2011, 15 Oct-07 Feb, Taipei, The National Palace Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2010-2011, 11 Mar-12 Jun, Kobe City Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2011, 4 Jul-25 Sep, Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2011-2012, 25 Oct-12 Feb, Mexico City, National Anthropological Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2012 3 May-3 Sep, London, BM, G90, Picasso Prints: The Vollard Suite
2012-2013, 6 Oct- 6 Jan, Portland Art Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2013, 6 May–6 Oct, Dallas Museum of Art, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2014, 21 Feb-9 Jun, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2014, 2 Aug–9 Nov, Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, Australia, The Body Beautiful in Greek Art and Thought
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number