The Lely Venus

One of our students was inspired when she went to see this statue in the British Museum. And indeed to see it is to marvel at its beauty and vitality.

Its motif, of the crouching Venus, has been admired and reworked since the Classical period of Greece, and there are examples of it all over Europe and beyond; but this one in London has been especially prized. It is Roman, carved in the 2nd century from a Greek original of several hundred years before, and was purchased by Charles I from the Gonzaga family.  It is now on loan to the Museum from the Royal Collection.

There is no Latin verb that means to kneel, as one pupil discovered when doing a prose composition. Nor is there a word for to crouch, which may be why, in a passage of Pliny the Elder*, he cannot describe a statue of this kind in the temple of Jupiter Stator: he designates the Venus as se lavantem, in contrast to another that is stantem.

If we accept the conclusions that follow from Carl Jung’s theories of the classical world, then Greek religion involves a veneration of the human form, and the pagan gods are used by Greek artists to celebrate the beauties of the human body in its different physiques and postures.  The crouching Venus, which has so fascinated people since ancient times, celebrates womanhood in a different way from the more remote figures—sometimes quite slender and dreamlike—of Venus standing.   We do not know what experiments the original artist went through with his model when he chanced on this pose that would present a different aspect of female beauty for admiration. But his skill, the more one considers it, was of an order to challenge belief.

*Historia Naturalis, Book XXXVI, Chap.4