What Happened to the Venus De Milo's Arms?

Wikimedia Commons // Leo Gonzales
Wikimedia Commons // Leo Gonzales / Wikimedia Commons // Leo Gonzales

On April 8, 1820, several pieces of a broken statue were found on a farmer’s land on the Aegean island of Melos. Deemed the “Venus de Milo” for the island of her origin, the statue was quickly purchased by France. After she was presented to King XVIII, Venus was donated to the Louvre, where she’s been holding court ever since.

Though her missing arms are her most famous feature, it’s possible that Venus had at least the left one at the time she was discovered. Relatives of the farmer who dug up the pieces later claimed that when they were there for the big find, Venus had a left hand that clutched an apple. Other letters from people involved in the purchase reference her broken arms, saying that they were “presently detached from the body,” perhaps indicating that they could later be put back on.

One tale goes that the French Navy vessel sent to retrieve the statue from Melos was involved in a scuffle with a Greek ship. During the fight, the statue was somehow dashed against some rocks, breaking off both arms. The story was later proved false, as an earlier sketch of the statue showed it armless before the transaction took place.

Whether or not they were originally there, Venus’s arms aren’t the only things missing now. The statue was originally adorned with metal jewelry, including a bracelet, earrings, and a headband. The holes where the jewelry was once attached to the marble still remain. Venus is also missing her left foot.

There’s another major piece that’s not included with the statue display: Part of the Venus’s base was also found in that field in Melos, bearing the inscription, “Alexandros son of Menides, citizen of Antioch of Meander made the statue.” The base may be legitimately missing, or it may just be stashed away.

Though the ability to identify the artist seems like good news, France was anything but pleased about the discovery. Because Antioch wasn’t founded until the late third century B.C., the base placed the creation of the statue somewhere in the Hellenistic period. The problem with this is that France had already touted the Venus de Milo as a prime example of classical art, and the date and location of the piece now said otherwise. Officials convinced themselves the base was part of a restoration completed at a later date, and decided not to display it with the statue. It’s been missing ever since, although the museum’s conservator of Greek antiquities insists they wouldn’t have destroyed such an important piece of history.