Gibson was among the first neo-classical sculptors to paint his sculptures. During the 19th century it became widely known that this had been the practice in ancient Greece. Gibson's intention had been to revive this practice of 'sculptural polychromy'
His aim was not realism, as there is no attempt to simulate flesh colours. The work, however, still aroused a great deal of controversy when it was first shown in 1862. The 'Athenaeum' magazine denounced it as 'a naked impudent English woman', while the 'Sculptor's Journal' thought it 'one of the most beautiful and elaborate figures undertaken in modern times'.
Venus carries the golden apple presented to her by Paris as the symbol of her beauty and power. At her feet is a tortoise upon whose back is the inscription 'Gibson made me in Rome'.