When I was staring hypnotically at the painting, feeling a bit uncomfortable with Venus’ nudity, but mesmerized at the same time, I started to think of Aphrodite’s dual nature.
Hesiod’s poem makes evident that the Aphrodite I was looking at was Aphrodite Urania, “born from the male alone and not as the result of sexual union” (MLS 189).
She is the celestial goddess, often naked and associated with pure and spiritual love.
In contrast, there is an alternative myth where she is identified as the daughter of Zeus and his mate Dione. Here, robed in luxurious clothing, she is called Aphrodite Pandemos or common Aphrodite, and she is depicted as the goddess of sex and procreation of children.
While these two myths are crystal clear, I still perceive ambiguity in Cabanel’s artwork. Maybe it is because of Venus’ playful and provocative pose, or simply because I cannot think of female nudity in any other way than symbolizing sex and the sensual.
When the deep trance state caused by the canvas ended, I decided to go back in time and take a look at the Sixteenth-Century paintings.
Immediately, I recognized them. Venus, entirely naked, grabs Adonis, the mortal hunter, and tries to restrain him from leaving. It seems self-evident that he wants to go hunting: he is carrying a bow and arrows. His dogs are pulling him impatiently.
I completely agree with the Met’s informational card, which states that the mood of sensuality created b...
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...er changed to a bloodless plant, another part was ruby red, and where her face had been a flower like a violet [i.e. a heliotrope] was seen. Though rooted fast, towards the sun she turns; her shape is changed, but still her passion burns." (Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 204 & 234 & 256)
I absolutely love this sculpture because it conveys Clytie’s feelings: misery, melancholy and heartache. The fact that it was a life-size statue made it so real that I wanted to console her and dry her tears.
My journey was over, I had to go back home. I did not want to because, for three and a half hours, I felt pure happiness. I let my emotions fill my eyes and soul. I do not recommend this place; I prescribe it, like eating healthily and exercising.
M. Morford, R. Lenardon, M. Sham, Classical Mythology. Oxford University Press, 9th edition
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