These two marble sculptures of Venus and Eros were probably carved during the first century AD. They are reproductions, explains Antiquities specialist Claudio Corsi, of lost Greek originals that would have been cast in bronze some 500 years earlier.
Contrary to popular perception, they would not have appeared in their natural carved state as they do today. ‘Both Roman and Greek sculptures would have been painted, and quite often adorned with accessories,’ Corsi points out.
This version of Venus — the Roman goddess of love, fertility and female beauty — is known as Venus Pontia-Euploia, Pontia meaning ‘of the sea’, and Euploia translating as ‘fair voyage’. The original is traditionally thought to be from the time of Praxiteles, circa 350 BC, and may have stood in a temple by the sea, serving as a protector of sailors and sea voyages.
‘Venus was often represented completely nude, or just partially draped as in this case,’ says Corsi, pointing out the thick, flowing folds of the goddess’s mantle as it cascades from her head down to her legs, accentuating the curves of her body.
Only around 20 of these replicas of Praxiteles’ original have survived, but most have not retained the fragile veiled head.
The statue of Eros, the god of sensual love, is a copy of a 4th-century BC Greek bronze sculpture traditionally attributed to Lysippos, the court sculptor of Alexander the Great. Lysippos’s long-lost original once stood in a major sanctuary of Eros in the city of Thespiai, around 50 miles north-west of Athens. Another statue of Eros at the same site, by Praxiteles, was one of the most famous statues of the ancient world.
‘The main attribute of Eros is this bow, and the arrows that he uses to strike whoever he wants at will,’ explains Corsi. ‘Mortals, gods — nobody is immune from the power of the arrows of Eros.’
Other 1st- and 2nd-century copies of Lysippos’s Eros can be found in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London — testament to the Greek god’s popularity in Roman religion.
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‘What I really like about this Eros,’ Corsi says, ‘is the expression of the face. It hides some mischief, some naughtiness. You can see there is a playful side to the god.’
Both sculptures will be on view at Christie’s in London from 29 November to 3 December during Classic Week, ahead of the Antiquities sale on 4 December.