Esquiline Venus

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The Esquiline Venus
0 Vénus de l'Esquilin - Musei Capitolini - Rome.JPG
Yearc. 50 AD
TypeWhite marble
LocationCapitoline Museums[1], Rome
Venere esquilina, elaborazione imperiale da modelli dello stile severo, da horti lamiani 04.JPG

The Esquiline Venus, depicting the goddess Venus (i.e. Greek Aphrodite), is a smaller-than-life-size Roman nude marble sculpture of a female in sandals and a diadem headdress. It is widely viewed as a 1st-century AD Roman copy of a Greek original from the 1st century BC. It is also a possible depiction of the Ptolemaic ruler Cleopatra VII.

The sculpture is thought to have been based on an original Hellenistic statue from the Ptolemaic Kingdom. It possibly depicts Venus-Isis, a syncretism of Venus with the Egyptian goddess Isis. The copy was likely commissioned by emperor Claudius to decorate the Horti Lamiani.[2] The vase depicted next to the female figure includes an asp or uraeus, depictions of the Egyptian cobra.[3]


The Esquiline Venus was found in 1874 in Piazza Dante on the Esquiline Hill in Rome,[1] probably part of the site of the Horti Lamiani,[4] one of the imperial gardens, rich archaeological sources of classical sculpture. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the thirteen Medici Niobids, a variant of the Laocoön and his Sons, the bust of Commodus with the attributes of Hercules, and the Discobolus had already been found here. After 1870 intensive building work was ongoing at the site, as part of preparations to make Rome the new capital of the Kingdom of Italy, following the Italian unification.[5] The newly found sculpture soon passed into the collection of the Capitoline Museums,[6] where it now resides, and is usually on display at its Museo Centrale Montemartini.[7]

In style the Esquiline Venus is an example of the Pasitelean "eclectic" Neo-Attic school, combining elements from a variety of other previous schools - a Praxitelean idea of the nude female form; a face, muscular torso, and small high breasts in the fifth-century BC severe style; and pressed-together thighs typical of Hellenistic sculptures.[8] Its arms must have broken off when the statue fell after the imperial park in which it stood fell into neglect after antiquity. They have been frequently restored in paintings (see below), but never in reality.


A Sculptor's Model, by Alma-Tadema
, 1877

The statue's subject has variously been interpreted, as the Roman goddess Venus (possibly in the form Venus Anadyomene), as a nude mortal female bather, a female version of the diadumenos tying up the hair with a fillet (see below). The Esquiline Venus is generally thought to be a mid-1st-century AD Roman copy of a 1st-century BC Greek original from the school of Pasiteles.[1] Its provenance has been characterized both as a Ptolemaic-Egyptian commission or as a copy of one, perhaps a copy commissioned by Claudius himself for the imperial gardens. This identification is based on the statue's Egyptian-style robe, descending over a vase, the asp or uraeus Egyptian cobra on the vase, and curly hair; if correct, these features could make it a cult statue of the goddess Isis, or an image (perhaps that set up by Julius Caesar) of Cleopatra VII as Isis or Venus-Isis (the two were frequently conflated). This view is backed by the Italian philologist Licinio Glori in 1955. Or she could be a copy of the statue of Cleopatra set up by Caesar in the temple of Venus Genetrix, a view supported by Bernard Andreae.[9] In addition to hairstyle and facial features, the apparent royal diadem worn over the head is also an indication that it depicts Cleopatra.[10][1] Detractors of this theory argue that the facial features on the Berlin bust and coinage of Cleopatra differ and assert that it was unlikely she would be depicted as the naked goddess Venus (i.e. the Greek Aphrodite).[10][1] However, she was depicted in an Egyptian statue as the goddess Isis.[11] Cleopatra was also depicted on some of her coins as Venus-Aphrodite,[12] and reportedly dressed as Aphrodite when meeting Mark Antony at Tarsos in 42 BC.[13]

In modern art

The sculpture inspired many artistic reconstructions in the decade after its discovery. Chief among these are Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's A Sculptor's Model (1877) and Edward Poynter's Diadumene (1884).[14] These both portrayed the statue's model binding her hair with a strip of fabric (as with the statue type diadumenos) in preparation for modelling for the sculptor or for taking a bath respectively. Poynter believed this to be the correct reconstruction partly because the remains of the little finger of her left hand are visible on the back of her head, suggesting that her left arm was raised to hold her hair in place, whilst the right hand wound the fabric. At the Museo Centrale Montemartini, the Esquiline Venus is now usually displayed behind a 'pool' (actually a glass floor panel) in tribute to this rendering.

Another torso of this type (Louvre)[15]


From December 2006 to February 4, 2007, the sculpture was the centrepiece of the exhibition "Cleopatra and the Caesars" at the Bucerius Kunst Forum at Hamburg,[16] following which, from March to June 2007, she was at the Louvre for the Praxiteles exhibition.


  1. ^ a b c d e Roller, Duane W. (2010). Cleopatra: a biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195365535, p. 175.
  2. ^ For bibliography on this point, see here.
  3. ^ For bibliography on this point, see here.
  4. ^ "The identification is attractive, but not certain, according to Lawrence Richardson, A new Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, s.v. "Horti Lamiani".
  5. ^ The Boxer of Quirinal was discovered in similar circumstances in 1885.
  6. ^ Accession number: inv. MC1141
  7. ^ "Musei Capitolini: Museo Montemartini". Archived from the original on 2006-12-06. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
  8. ^ Robinson: "the Esquiline Venus is an anomalous work, for while the body is modelled with a voluptuousness that almost oversteps the line dividing the nude from the naked, the head is treated with archaic severity, in the style of the first half of the fifth century", quoted in Edmund von Mach, A Handbook of Greek and Roman Sculpture 1905, plate 318 and p 348f.
  9. ^ For bibliography on this point, see here.
  10. ^ a b Polo, Francisco Pina (2013). "The Great Seducer: Cleopatra, Queen and Sex Symbol" in Silke Knippschild and Marta Garcia Morcillo (eds), Seduction and Power: Antiquity in the Visual and Performing Arts, 183-197. London: Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 978-1-44119-065-9, pp. 186, 194 footnote #10.
  11. ^ Ashton, Sally-Ann (2008). Cleopatra and Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-1390-8, p. 83.
  12. ^ Fletcher, Joann (2008), Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind the Legend, New York: Harper, p. 205, ISBN 9780060585587.
  13. ^ Burstein, Stanley M. (2004), The Reign of Cleopatra, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, p. 23, ISBN 9780313325274.
  14. ^ Poynter worked from the cast of the original in the Sculpture Court of the Victoria and Albert Museum, according to the reviewer in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, "The Decline of Art: the Royal Academy and Grosvenor Gallery", July 1885, in an extended justification of nudity in art: "Slightly, however, he has seen fit to modify the head: archaic curls are relaxed into flowing locks, and severe features relent into society smiles" (p. 13).
  15. ^ Later, 2nd century Parian marble torso of this type, from Brindisi [1]
  16. ^ "Bucerius Kunst Forum". Archived from the original on 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2006-12-05.



  • Das Gesicht der Göttin., 16.10.2006, Der Spiegel. Hamburg 2006, 42, S. 181
  • Berthold Seewald, So sah Kleopatra wirklich aus, Die Welt, 26 October 2006 (in German)[2]
  • Bernard Andreae, Dorothea Gall, Günter Grimm, Heinz Heinen et al., "Kleopatra und die Caesaren", hrsg. von Ortrud Westheider, Karsten Müller (2006: Munich, Hirmer Verlag)
  • Cleo Uncovered (exhibition review of "Cleopatra and the Caesars"), Current World Archaeology 20, pages 42–43

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