Wednesday, June 30, 2010


"Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix," (1808)

"Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix" is a semi-nude life-size reclining neo-Classical portrait sculpture of white marble, by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. Reviving the ancient Roman artistic traditions of portrayals of mortal individuals in the guise of the gods, and of the beautiful female form reclining on a couch (as most often seen in reclining portrayals of Hermaphroditi), it was commissioned by Pauline Bonaparte's husband Camillo Borghese and executed in Rome from 1805 to 1808, after the subject's marriage into the Borghese family. It then moved to Camillo's house in Turin, then to Genoa, only arriving in its present home (the Galleria Borghese in Rome) around 1838.

Nude portraits were unusual, subjects of high rank usually having strategically-placed drapery (though Canova did produce another of the Bonaparte family, with his 1806 Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker). It is a matter of debate as to whether she actually posed naked for the sculpture, since only the head is a realistic (if slightly idealised) portrait, whilst the nude torso is a neo-classically idealised female form. When asked how she could pose for the sculptor wearing so little, she reputedly replied that there was a stove in the studio that kept her warm, though this may be apochryphal or a quip deliberately designed by her to stir up scandal.

She holds an apple in her hand evoking Aphrodite's victory in the Judgement of Paris. The room in which the sculpture is exhibited at the Galleria Borghese also has a ceiling painting portraying the judgement, painted by Domenico de Angelis in 1779 and inspired by a famous relief on the façade of the Villa Medici.
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