This complete and virtually intact group statuette depicts the goddess Venus standing on a two- tiered integral base. Her garment is draped around her lower thighs and held in place with her left hand just to the side of her pubic triangle. The garment billows out behind the legs of the goddess in a form evocative of a sea shell, reminding all that Venus arose full-grown from the foam of the sea on the shores of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Her hair is elaborately coiffed and adorned with a headdress, cascading to her shoulders. She holds an apple in her raised right hand, emblematic of her first place in the beauty contest judged by Paris in which she defeated two other goddesses. She is flanked on one side by Eros, who stands on an integral base but one that is separated from that of Venus.It is interesting to note the profusion of statuettes of Venus recovered from Roman sites in both Jordan and Syria. The popularity of this goddess in those areas is to be understood as the survival of the cult of the mother goddess of more remote times whose hold on the area was so iron-clad that it could not be readily released. That remote cult of the mother goddess emphasized her characteristics of fecundity couched in terms of human, female sexuality. By the time of the Roman Imperial Period, that sexuality was transformed into the most erotic and salacious depictions of the goddess.
The statuette discussed here is a Roman copy of a famed monumental statue created in the Hellenistic Period. That statue was anciently known as the Venus Kallipigos, “Aphrodite of the ‘beautiful behind.’” This original statue was designed in such a way that the curious visitor would walk around to the back of the statue only to discover that the shell-like shaped garment was lower in the back of the statue than it was in the front, thereby exposing the goddess’s sensual buttocks.
There is at least one monumental, Roman copy of the presumed Hellenistic original upon which this group statuette is based in the collections of the Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi in Syracuse, Sicily. These two versions differ from the more canonical representations of Aphrodite Kallipigos, as seen in the Roman copy in the Farnese Collection. The Farnese Aphrodite is standing with her left arm raised on high as she cranes her neck backward to catch a glimpse of her own back side. The group statuette under discussion and its larger scale parallel in Syracuse avoid the sharp, backward turn of the head in favor of a forward looking glance. In this way, the spectator must take the initiative to move to the back of the representation in order to appreciate the nuances of the composition which develops in the round.