Tinted Venus card

Tinted Venus

WAG 7808

On display


Venus, goddess of love, gazes dreamily from her little temple into space. Or adoringly at the mortal Paris, who's just declared her the winner of a beauty-contest and awarded her a golden apple. When this Venus was exhibited in London in 1862 she caused a scandal. It wasn't her nakedness that caused offence, or the realistic carving. It was the fact that she's 'tinted' – making her just that bit too life-like for comfort. The coloured details on strategically-placed drapery, face and fancy hairdo are obvious. But her flesh is more subtle. Compare it with the drapery itself – the only area left natural – and you'll see the flesh is just slightly warmed up. Enough nevertheless to unnerve the Victorian public. Beneath the drapery is a tortoise. In Ancient Greek and Roman Classical art Venus is often depicted with her foot on a tortoise, symbol of fertility. On the shell here, written in Greek, it says 'J Gibson made me in Rome'. Born in Wales, John Gibson had been apprenticed to a stonemason in Liverpool and introduced to Classical art by the city's 'cultural father' William Roscoe. Gibson moved to Rome and built a successful career. What added to people's shock in 1862 when this Venus was exhibited, was that he was in his seventies, highly respected, with Queen Victoria a patron. The Victorians liked their statues pure white, cold. As they believed they should be - according to the Classical statues they were based on. But recently feint traces of paint had been found on excavated marbles – proving they'd once been coloured. Gibson claimed he was reviving this tradition, following Classical principles as he'd always done. The colours on ancient statues were actually garish. That's been revealed by modern science, so it's unlikely Gibson knew. But either way there's no doubting the naturalism of his Venus. Gibson had been commissioned to make this statue. It took him five years to finish her – and then another four before he could bring himself to release her. Facing Venus, turn to face the left wall. There, to the right of the doorway, are some of Gibson's reliefs. There's the wife of one of his patrons - for whom he had a platonic passion - and a flying Cupid and Psyche he associated with her. Look out for other statues by Gibson in this room - including Eros with a butterfly - Psyche - Cupid in Disguise, with wings peeping from beneath his cloak - and the woolliest sheepskin ever.