Venus de Milo

Even if we are now in late August, here is my ARCHAEO-Crush for the months of May and June. It is one of the most famous works of ancient art at the Musée du Louvre.

VENUS DE MILO

Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Hellenistic Greece
Date: circa 100 BCE

ARCHAEO-Crush: For the longest time, I thought the Venus de Milo had been sculpted by ancient Greek artist called Milo–but that is actually not the case. The sculpture is called ‘de Milo’ (of/from Milo) because it was discovered in 1820 on the Greek island of Milos (Milo in modern Greek), by a peasant who was looking for stones to build a wall around his field. We do not know who sculpted this beautiful goddess. Certain elements recall sculptures of the 5th century BCE  (her air of aloofness, the harmony of her face and her impassivity), while others–like the hairstyle and delicate modeling of the flesh–are reminescent of sculptural works by Praxiteles (4th century). Despite Classical traits, innovations associated with the Hellenistic Period confirm the date of the sculpture as being a little later.
Although she is called Venus, we do not know for certain that the goddess of love is actually represented.  As is the case with many ancient sculptures, she is fragmented and the arms that would hold attributes that would inform the identification of the goddess are missing. The sculpture semi-nudity would favour an identification as Aphrodite/Venus, but it could also be Artemis, a Danaid (one of the 50 daughters of Danaus) or even Amphitrite, the goddess of the sea worshipped on Milos.  And so the mystery remains unsolved…

Bucket list status:  I actually saw this sculpture twice. The first time, I was walking with a colleague through the galleries on the way to a meeting and I noticed the sculpture from the corner of my eye.  I giggled and say, “Oh! I forgot that sculpture was here! I’ll have to come back.”  It was on another visit (also rushed) that I was able to take a few minutes to look at the famous Venus de Milo and snap a couple of pictures.

Additional information: You will find more information, including a list of reference to published materials, on the Louvre’s website.

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City of Aleppo

Now that I am on vacation, I have more free time than originally thought and thus am presenting another ARCHAEO-Crush for December. My crush is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world. It is a city that we see constantly in the news these days… all for the wrong reasons. Aleppo.

CITY OF ALEPPO
Type: archaeological site (urban)
Civilisation: Ancient and modern Syria, various empires and kingdoms
Date: At least from the 3rd millennium B.C.E. to today

ARCHAEO-Crush: Strategically placed for commercial and military endeavours between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, the city has had a long history probably going back 5,000 years and has been known under various names. Having been occupied continually, there has been very little archaeological excavations in the city proper. In the 3rd millennium, it was part of the Kingdom of Amri as well as the Akkadian and Amorite empires; it was also mentioned in cuneiform tablets from Ebla. During its long history, Aleppo was taken by the Hittites, conquered by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C.E. and handed over to the Seleucids after his death. Aleppo flourished during the Hellenistic period and its prosperity increases even when Syria becomes a Roman province in 64 B.C.E.  The city remained important during the Byzantine period and lived on beyond the fall of Antiquity (end of the 5th century).

During the Middle Ages, the city was conquered by the Arabs in 637 and became the capital of the Hamdanids in 944. Aleppo was besieged (but not conquered) during the Crusades and was in turn in the hands of the Fatimids, Seljuks, of Zengi, Nur ad-Din and Saladin, of the Mongols, Mamluks, and Tamerlan prior to being annexed to the Ottoman Empire in 1516 (until 1918). Aleppo was under French mandate before it declared its independence in 1944.

Bucket list status: I visited Syria in 1999 and Aleppo was on my list of cities to visit during my trip. I had studied the architecture of this city in Islamic architecture during my undergrad at Université Laval and was fascinated by the Aleppo Citadel. I just had to go see it… which I did (that is why many the photos presented here are of the Citadel).  It is fortified Medieval castle dating to 1230, featuring an imposing entrance with an impressive bridge/staircase. Unfortunately, this feature was destroyed by rebel bombardments in the summer of 2014. While in Aleppo, I had to stay at the Baron’s Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote (in part) Murder on the Orient Express and where Lawrence of Arabia also stayed. I thoroughly enjoyed Aleppo and Syria, the fabulous archaeological sites, the historic monuments, the wonderful people and the stunning landscapes.

Additional information: The historic centre of Aleppo is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1986 (number 21). Its recent destruction is all the more devastating. It is absolutely heart-breaking to see a city and its population being massacred… Aleppo is now on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2013.

The Barberini Faun

My ARCHAEO-Crush for February is my favourite Classical sculpture of all times.

THE BARBERINI FAUN

Type: sculpture (marble)
Civilisation: Ancient Greece
Date: Hellenistic period, 323 -146 BCE (but could be a very high quality Roman copy)
ARCHAEO-Crush: I have always had a soft spot for marble statuary and this magnificent sculpture really amazed me when I first learned of it in art history class. Although partially restored during the 17th and 18th century (notably the legs, which were apparently not positioned quite as high), this is a masterpiece on several levels, including the execution. The position of the body is not only rather unusual, but also extremely challenging for a sculptor; the musculature is wonderful and remarkably detailed; the face is expressive; the sculpture is exquisite.
The blatant sexuality of the sculpture can be chocking to some, but in Greek art nudity was common-place and normal, part of the notions of Greek ideal. Despite the provocative pose, there is also a certain vulnerability to be found in this sculpture, a vulnerability that is just as enticing as the sleeping male, a vulnerability not often associated with men. I think that this vulnerability makes us forget that the youth sprawled on a panther skin on the rocks is not a man…
In fact, it is a faun or, more fitting for a Hellenistic statue, a satyr–a woodland creature from Greek mythology with equine features, notably horse tail and ears, and ithyphallic. (The faun of Roman mythology is half-man, half-goat with hairy legs and hooves, pointy ears and horns).  During Antiquity, the appearance of satyrs and fauns became more and more human-like and one must pay close attention to details to determine the identity of the subject. Here, the human legs of the youth belie its animal nature but a short tail is visible on the lower back and the pointy ears are hidden by the wreath of ivy. Yet the wreath is quite telling in and of itself… it is one of the symbols of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine, drunkenness, ritual madness, theatre and tragedy.  Satyrs are his randy, drinking companions.  The (terribly sexy) young satyr represented here is exhausted from excessive partying…
Bucket list status: I drop by the Glyptothek every time I am in Munich just to see this wonderful sculpture. And I’m usually not the only one spending long minutes staring at its wonderful physique.
Additional information:
The statue has the inventory number 218.  There is a post about the Barberini Faun on Khan Academy