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Venus with Sword of Mars

Museum Label:
Venus with Sword of Mars
20th-century bronze cast from Hellenistic original
Location: Uffizi, Florence

Chiurazzi description:
Venus with the sword of Mars. Hellenistic art. The goddess, as a sign of her victory over Mars, demonstrates pleasure in having taken the sword.

Original size: 130 cm.

Hellenisric Art:
Hellenistic sculpture repeats the innovations of the second classicism: perfect sculpture in the round, allowing the statue to be admired from all angles; study of draping and effects of transparency of clothing; suppleness of poses. Thus, Venus, even while echoing a classic model, is distinguished by the twist of her hips. One seeks, above all, expressivity and atmosphere. This search is particularly flagrant in the portraits: more than the precision of the traits represented, the artist seeks to represent the character of his/her subject. In the great statuary, the artist explores themes such as suffering, sleep or old age. One such is the Barberini Faun of Munich, representing a sleeping satyr with relaxed posture and anxious face, perhaps the prey of nightmares. Laoco÷n, strangled by snakes, tries desperately to loosen their grip without affording a glance at his dying sons.

Pergamon did not distinguish itself with its architecture alone: it was also the seat of a brilliant school of sculpture called Pergamene Baroque. The sculptors, imitating the preceding centuries, portray painful moments rendered expressive with three-dimensional compositions, often V-shaped, and anatomical hyper-realism.

Attalus I (269-197 BC), to commemorate his victory at Caicus against the Gauls — called Galatians by the Greeks — had two series of votive groups sculpted: the first, consecrated on the Acropolis of Pergamon, includes the famous Gaul killing himself and his wife, of which the original is lost; the second group, offered to Athens, is composed of small bronzes of Greeks, Amazons, gods and giants, Persians and Gauls. Artemis Rospigliosi of the Louvre is probably a copy of one of them; as for copies of the Dying Gaul, they were very numerous in the Roman period. The expression of sentiments, the forcefulness of details — bushy hair and moustaches here — and the violence of the movements are characteristic of the Pergamene style.

These characteristics are pushed to their peak in the friezes of the Great Altar of Pergamon, decorated under the order of Eumenes II (197-159 BC) with a gigantomachy stretching  some350 ft in length, illustrating in the stone a poem composed especially for the court. The Olympians triumph in it, each on his side, over Giants most of which are transformed into savage beasts: serpents, birds of prey, lions or bulls. Their mother Gaia, come to their aid, can do nothing and must watch them twist in pain under the blows of the gods.

Another phenomenon appears in Hellenistic sculpture: privatization, which involves the recapture of older public patterns in decorative sculpture. This type of retrospective style also exists in ceramics. As for the portaits, they are tinged with naturalism, under the influence of Roman art.

Venus was an Italian fertility goddess, especially the protectress of gardens. Later she was identified with Aphrodite, whose myths she appropriated, and her consort was Mars (although her husband in myth was Vulcan). As mother of Aeneas she became much more important in Roman mythology, a process that culminated in the dedication (A.D. 121) of a temple to Venus Felix ("Bringer of Success") and Roma Aeterna ("Eternal Rome") by the emperor Hadrian. As Venus Cloacina she had a shrine in the Forum beside the drainage system of the area (called the Cloaca); Pompey dedicated a temple to her as Venus Victrix ("Conqueror") as part of his theater, the first permanent stone theater at Rome (55 B.C.). Julius Ceasar (46 B.C.) dedicated a temple to her as Venus Genetrix ("Ancestress"), honoring her as the founder of his family, The gens Iulia. Her first temple at Rome (215 B.C.) was that of Venus Erycina in Sicily.

More information on other sculpture.