Aphrodite, Venus. Two names for the same goddess, who inspired the dreams of lovers for many centuries before Christianity: she was the goddess of Love.
She was present in the pantheon of Greek and Roman religion and she was the subject also for many artists with the passing of time, although we can see that the meaning of her representation changed in different periods.
In Paris, a very romantic city, there is one of the most famous Hellenistic statues in the world: the Venus de Milo. In reality the right name should be Aphrodite, but traditionally we know her by the other name. The statue is in the Louvre and it was discovered on the island of Milos by a peasant in 1820, who found also the upper left arm of the statue and the left hand holding an apple, unfortunately they were lost before the statue arrived to Paris.
When you look at the statue, you have to think that, when the artist sculptured it, people really thought that this was the image of a real goddess. Pliny the Elder reports that a young aristocratic man fell desperately in love with another famous statue of Venus, the “Aphrodite of Cnidus” by Praxiteles, for him she was the representation of somebody who really existed.
Venus had to be the reflection of Beauty. The body of the Venus de Milo is twisting: in this way she is moving in space and she shows her gracefulness. The length of cloth, that is covering her hips and legs, is characterized by a vibrating chiaroscuro (the use of light and shade to give volume), so it exalts the upper part of her body and her smooth skin. Being half covered, the goddess becomes more sensual, and so she can express the real meaning of her divine nature.
During the Renaissance, intellectual people and artists took inspiration from the ancient world, so they started once again to represent Venus and the other gods and goddesses, but now they gave allegoric meaning to their images.
In the National Gallery in London there are many wonderful paintings of Venus, like the “Allegory with Venus and Cupid” by Bronzino (1546) or “Venus At Her Mirror” by Diego Velazquez (1649–51) or “Venus and Mars” by the Italian painter Sandro Botticelli, who painted it in 1483. The shape of this last painting, a long rectangle, makes the experts think that it was the decoration of a bench or of a chest and the subject was in relation to a marriage. The two gods are lying on the grass, one in front of the other, but Venus is awake, Mars is sleeping. Four little satyrs are playing with the weapons of Mars, the god of the war. Venus is very sophisticated and she shows all her elegance and dignity. Look at her dress, made with transparent veils, her piece of jewellery and her hairstyle. Everything is perfect.
In the Neo-Platonist philosophy in Florence, Venus was Venus/Humanitas, synthesis of spirit and matter, allegory of culture and refinement. So in the painting by Botticelli, Venus, who is vigilant, represented culture and reason, that defeats the bellicose instincts of Mars, who is sleeping. Peace and love wins over war, an evergreen idea.