Venus de Milo

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Venus de Milo, plaster cast of original ca. 100 B.C. exhibited at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Venus de Milo, Plaster cast of original ca. 100 B.C. exhibited at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Location: Shwayder Art Building Lobby

This sculpture is one of the least understood objects in the University’s art collections: a plaster cast of the Aphrodite of Melos (also known variously as the Venus de Milo, the Venus of Melos, etc.). In the winter of 2009, Venus returned to public view after months of conservation work was complete. SAAH pre-conservation students were supervised by a professional art conservator as they removed layers of dirt, grime and water-based paints from the cast’s surface. We are fortunate to find this cast in reasonably good condition, despite its age. It is a high quality cast, taken from molds that preserved much of the stone texture of the original marble, including chips and losses.

In the earliest days of formal art education in Colorado, the accepted measure of art education remained “classical” training—that is to say, training in the academic European tradition. The emphasis on drawing from antique sculpture (in North American practice, drawing from casts of ancient Greek and Roman statuary) was the core of most programs. Since the group of accepted antique and Renaissance models was limited to a number of precious and unattainable originals, the plaster cast itself cam to take on a unique significance in art education. It is interesting to note, for example, that New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the time of its founding in 1870, was devoted to collecting and exhibiting both contemporary art and plaster casts from the antique. While teaching from antique and Renaissance casts fell out of fashion in the early 20th century, drawing from such works has not entirely disappeared from the art curriculum. Even today, basic drawing instruction at DU includes assignments to draw the surviving cast of the Venus de Milo.  Sadly, no other of the estimated 200 plaster casts in DU’s collection in the 1890s have survived to the present day.

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