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August 2003 - Venus, Unveiled

An exhibit of several works of art inspired by Venus, the Roman name for the ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite, has recently opened in Paris. Entitled "The Myth of Venus - From Titian to Rubens, Master Works of the Museums of Florence", the exhibit features 25 chefs d'œuvre from the Medici collection.

The exhibit is presented in the town hall of the 5th arrondissement of Paris, located just across the square from the Pantheon. At the opening ceremony on July 11, the mayor of the arrondissement, Jean Tiberi, proclaimed his enthusiasm for the richness of the works on display. A number of other organizations are associated with the exhibit, including the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs, the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Italian Center for Art and Culture.

Venus is the goddess of love and beauty, and most of the works on display here evoke this theme. One particularly embellished work is a tapestry woven in wool, silk, gold and gilded silver by Jan Rost, inspired by cartoons drawn by Bronzino in 1546. Here, Venus is portrayed in the company of Gemini (the twins), Taurus (the bull), Aries (the ram) and three cherubs. Smiling benevolently, she soars above a lush countryside, and, in a metaphor of Spring, strews lilies and roses to the ground below.

In a painting by Tiziano Vecellio entitled Venus with a cherub, a dog and a partridge (1550), Venus lies naked on the scarlet cover of a bed in front of a window. At her feet stands a small dog barking at a partridge perched on the window sill. A small cupid at her shoulder embraces her. Apart from the delightful display of Venus' plump body, perhaps the most interesting characteristic of the painting is a small vase of roses on the table next to her bed. The vase and flowers are a still-life study in its own right, and the careful observer can see a golden spot of sunlight that has pierced the vase and fallen on the table.

Among the other works on exhibit is a graceful statue of Venus by Giambologna (1571). This bronze statue, about 4 feet tall, reveals Venus in the act of wringing her long hair. Venus is often represented stepping out of the water or kneeling to bathe herself. Oftentimes she is seen covering herself with her arms or hands in an attempt to hide her nakedness, as portrayed in the marble statue entitled the Aphrodite of Doidalsas (dating from the 1st century A.D.) that is also on display. However, in the representation by Giambologna, she seems to be preoccupied with her hair and is unaware that she is being observed.

Travelers to Paris during the month of August and the first week of September will surely want to include a visit to this exhibit on their agenda of "must-see" activities. It is a rare chance to view a collection of masterpieces from the museums of Florence. The exposition is open every day from 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Entry fee is 5 euros (3 euros if over 60 or under 12 years).

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2003