Maillol's admiration of ancient sculpture is well attested, and many of his best works are indebted to classical compositions. "It is the most beautiful thing that I have seen", Maillol once said of Greek art. "It is more beautiful than anything else in the world. It is an art of synthesis, a higher art than ours today, which seeks to represent the human flesh. If I had lived in the sixth century, I should have found happiness in working with those men" (quoted in J. Rewald, Maillol, Paris, 1939, p. 17). In 1908, Maillol traveled to Greece with one of his most important patrons, Count Kessler, and immediately felt a kinship with the land and its traditions; as the artist's friend John Rewald recalled, "Instead of approaching the Parthenon with the respectful fervor of a pilgrim at the end of a long journey, he walked among the ruins with the air of a happy lover revisiting the haunts of his first loves" (ibid., pp. 16-17). Maillol was particularly struck by the caryatids of the Erectheion, and had to be restrained by a guard from climbing up to embrace them. Not coincidentally, the noble bearing of the present sculpture is strongly reminiscent of the Erectheion maidens, while the slightly irregular horizontal lozenge formed by the figure's raised elbows has been likened to the capital of a caryatid (L.K. Kramer, Aristide Maillol: Pioneer of Modern Sculpture., Ph.D. diss., New York University, 2000, p. 75).
Works like the present one, however, are far from being mere imitations of ancient masterpieces. As Dina Vierny, Maillol's most celebrated muse and model, has written:
These Venuses...do not exist in order to call up an antique past, a revival of Greek archaism and its myths... One should rather look at the careful positioning of the figure, a bodily conception understood as the binding together of a volume in which is discovered the representation of its own perfection... The sculptures are conceived as an abstract idea that seeks formulation in the attitude of the figure or through the natural significance of the gestures... Symbol of fecundity or...absolute image of sensuality, they achieve a virtually allegorical dimension that conveys a transcending authority (D. Vierny, "Maillol and Modernity", in Aristide Maillol, Sculpture, exh. cat., C&M Arts, New York, 1997, p. 3).