What happened to the arms of the Venus de Milo?

Among the thousands of visitors to room 345 of the Sully Wing of the Louvre Museum, a question always arises that, not because it is repeated, is less important: why is the famous sculpture known as the Venus de Milo without arms? What are the reasons why it has not been restored? Perhaps they were lost in the struggle that took place at the beginning of the 19th century between the Turks and the French for their acquisition, as legend has it? Or had they already been lost in antiquity, which is certainly more likely? And the most pressing of all questions: what was he doing with his hands? What or who was he touching, what was he clinging to, what was he holding up?.

What happened to the arms of the Venus de Milo?

Among the thousands of visitors to room 345 of the Sully Wing of the Louvre Museum, a question always arises that, not because it is repeated, is less important: why is the famous sculpture known as the Venus de Milo without arms? What are the reasons why it has not been restored? Perhaps they were lost in the struggle that took place at the beginning of the 19th century between the Turks and the French for their acquisition, as legend has it? Or had they already been lost in antiquity, which is certainly more likely? And the most pressing of all questions: what was he doing with his hands? What or who was he touching, what was he clinging to, what was he holding up?

Faced with such doubts, the imagination tends to seek answers that sometimes border on fantasy. From those who think, to follow the example of the Venus of Cnidus, that the right arm was destined to cover the breasts and the left to grasp tightly a cloth that served to cover the pubis, to those who consider, as the writer Viginia Postrel stated on the digital portal of The Independent that the Venus was sculpted as an aid for spinning. To demonstrate this idea, she contacted the Californian designer Cosmo Wenman, an expert in 3D processes, who gave shape to the idea that Venus had been spinning.

There are also those who bet on believing that those arms should be in line with the Venus of Arles that Giradon restored in the time of Louis XIV and to which he attributed an apple and a mirror in which to look at himself so that it looked like a true Venus, and, to Today, it is linked to the Venus of Capua, the marble copy of the one made by Lysippus in the fourth century BC; but all simply agree that the important thing would be to know what attributes he represented himself with and what exactly he was carrying in his hands. So much concern arises from knowing that said sculpture is a marble copy from the Hellenistic period of the Cycladic school of a bronze original that after its discovery in 1820 on the island of Milo was attributed to Phidias and even to Praxiteles, although today it is not one is so sure of it, thinking that perhaps the author is Alexander of Antioch.

As we can see, in the face of doubts about what it would actually be like, it is still preferred to leave it as it was found and leave to the viewer's fantasy what its arms would be like, or of some artist such as Dalí, capable of turning parts of his body into drawers. a sublime dresser. I personally like to imagine a Venus de Milo with a shield in her arms and a spear in her right hand, in the role of a warrior woman, as the poet Homer liked to describe the goddesses in the Iliad; and already put to see her with the jewels that she had to wear according to the experts in the matter: earrings in the ears, diadem, bracelets, rings perhaps, in a line followed for centuries as we can see in the enigmatic sculpture known as Sainte-Foy of Conques.

And I like to think of it that way because I believe that the work of restoration today should provide visibility as close as possible to what it was like in its time. That is the best way to recover Lessing's proposal, who, when analyzing the Laocoön in the 18th century, stated that classical sculptures have to be valued for the social effect of the past on the present.

The restoration would thus be involved in the long debate on the canon of beauty elaborated since the Renaissance, in which Michelangelo himself, when creating his sculptures, understood that the whiteness of the marble was absolute perfection, far from the colored sculptures of the Roman Age. Media, and that was transmitted since then as an educational principle. Thus, the intense emotion of the Venus de Milo, the libido that arouses her elusive beauty to put it in the manner of Freud, would not come from the absence of her arms, but from the historical reality that it transmits.

Then, the visitor to the Louvre will notice that the legacy preserved there is more than the numb remains of a past that will never return, but rather delicate images as emitters of meaning of the ways of life of other times. An emotion that would unite the taste for beauty, which Kant defended so ardently, with the curiosity for the truth of the past to which Winckelmann invited, giving liveliness to historical knowledge.

Why doesn't the Venus de Milo have arms? One answer might be this: perhaps because there hasn't been enough discussion about what the original sculpture should look like. The myth has overcome reason, perhaps. The reason therefore is a lack of information, which should be remedied before an algorithm in the future indicates in imperative ways how to restore it.

Because the AI ​​lacks the scruples that the individual trained in Florentine humanism with Michelangelo as a reference has had when it comes to restoring a work of art from the classical era. What will happen then with the other sculptures that we have inherited in their current state? Will the Victory of Samothrace be given a face (that is to say, a head)? Or will the voids of some busts be filled definitively, as is already done in some cases from AI applied to modern proposals that appear linked to 21st century art, as proposed by the artist Egor Kraft with his work Deep Portrait Studies in the Still Human exhibition from the Madrid Solo Collection? Will anyone dare to place the charioteer of Delphi before his chariot and his horses, not timidly with a background drawing, but recovering what was lost? After all, the experience of realism today seems superior to the aesthetic experience, which we have when we see that poetics of emptiness in the expression of a man about to carry out the race of his life.

Once you start in that line of work, there will be no going back. Everything will be subject to what the algorithm determines and transhumanism will have defeated humanism. It will be useless to say that the contemplation of the ruins has been, and perhaps should be, the formative, initiatory aesthetic field of the human being. Since Diderot, the ruined belles are the shadow of past time, whose search is an investigation, a search, said Proust.

Where are the limits of restoration? Advancing in this restorative intention will take us to the color of the sculptures, not only free-standing, but also those that we now see in their white marble in the tympanums of Greek temples or Romanesque churches. Can we imagine arriving in Conques and seeing the Pantocrator with the colors that distinguish him in the paintings of this same period, in the same way that we can already see him in the recent restorations of the Pórtico de la Gloria in Santiago de Compostela or the Pórtico del Paraíso? of the Cathedral of Ourense?

Following this line, we should ask ourselves what would remain of Le Corbusier's poetic expression about the "white cathedrals" when the original colors are restored to the portals of the Gothic cathedrals, and we see the apostles, prophets and saints stationed in the jambs of the doors, now austere figures in the black and white of the stone, and in the restoration process the rabid current proposals to recover the polychromy of Amiens, Chartres or Reims through a more than fascinating play of lights.

Where will this aesthetic convulsion, now in vogue even among scholars, lead us? Perhaps to a situation analogous to that experienced in the world of cinema when it went from black and white photography in the 1940s to color photography as the norm and not the exception after the 1950s. The process of recovering the past in its powerful chromaticism has already begun. The challenges of restoration so far have been to conserve the already existing matter, to cleanse it of impurities without recovering what is known to have existed. A classic art that is not the basis of the calm soul that emanated from Salinas's music, but a world in its full chromaticism.

Phidias in full color, and after that the Assyrian winged lions, the Greek Propylaeans, or Laocoön himself and his sons fighting the serpent? Think of the funerary monument of Phrasilea, one of the most important finds of Greek statuary in the last fifty years, Mary Beard dixit, and the various attempts to reconstruct the original design of the dress with brightly colored flowers, rosettes and goldwork appliqués.

We already see that, before the debate about why the Venus de Milo is still without arms, what was said by the great poet Rilke rises: the beautiful is the threshold of the terrible.


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