Callipygian Venus – Venus, thought to be more beautiful than any mortal woman, demurely admires her reflection in this sculpture called “Callipygian,” meaning “of the beautiful buttocks.” Although the late Hellenistic original once stood at the center of a pool in Nero’s Domus Aurea in Rome, it was considered “dangerously erotic” and was included amongst other such artworks in a secret cabinet when relocated to Naples in 1802.
History of the Callipygian
The Venus Kallipygos as we have it is a Roman work in marble, dating to the late 1st century BC. It is considered to be a copy or “paraphrase” of an older Greek statue, probably bronze. This lost original is thought to have been created around 300 BC, near the inception of the Hellenistic era. The marble version’s sculptor and provenance are unknown. It was rediscovered, missing its head, in Rome by at least the 16th century. It is sometimes said to have been found in the ruins of Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea, though this is unlikely, as fragments uncovered there contained no evidence of high-quality artworks such as the Venus.
The missing head was reconstructed in the 16th century. The restorer decided to have the figure look over her shoulder at her own buttocks, a choice that gave the Venus its distinctive pose and had a significant effect on later interpretations of the work. The statue was acquired by the Farnese family and was in the Palazzo Farnese by 1594; it may be the draped Venus described as being in the palace by visitors earlier that century. In the 17th century it is known to have been kept in the palace’s Sala dei Filosophi, where it stood surrounded by statues of eighteen ancient philosophers. In 1731 the Farnese estate was inherited by Charles of Bourbon, who moved some of the marbles, including the Venus, across the Tiber River to the Villa Farnesina.
In 1786 the Bourbons decided to move the Venus Kallipygos to Naples with the rest of the Farnese collection. First, however, it was sent to be restored by Carlo Albacini. Responding to contemporary criticisms of some of the statue’s features, Albacini replaced the head, the arms, and one leg; he followed the previous restoration fairly faithfully in having the figure look back over her shoulder. By 1792 the statue was at the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, and by 1802 it was in the Museo degli Studi, now the Naples National Archaeological Museum, where it remains.