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Plate III.


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Venus Callipyge

(From Κάλλος, beautiful; πυγὴ, hips.)

IN MARBLE. Height nearly 6 inches.


THIS Charming statuette, found at Rome, was placed in the Farnese palace, and thus came into the possession of the King of Naples, together with the ownership of that edifice. It does not form a portion of the cabinet of private works of art, but is placed in a reserved hall, where the curious are only introduced under the surveillance of a guardian, though even this precaution has not prevented the rounded forms which won for the goddess the name of Callipyge, from being covered with a dark tint, which betrays the profane kisses that fanatic admirers have every day impressed there. We ourselves knew a young German tourist smitten with a mad passion for this voluptuous marble; and the commisseration his state of mind inspired set aside all idea of ridicule.

It is impossible, indeed, to imagine anything more graceful than the Venus here spoken of. The power of beauty is recognized wherever it manifests itself: the marble seems to palpitate; in contemplating it modesty takes alarm, desire begins to awake, and imagination to kindle;

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and we are obliged to hurry away in order to restore our agitated senses to their original tranquillity.

The goddess is raising the light tunic in which she is enveloped; her beautiful head is turned backwards, and her look, which glances lightly at a wonderful bend of her loins, seems to arrest itself with gratification on those graceful contours for the sake of which altars were erected to her.

Athenæus relates as follows the origin of the worship of this Venus:--

"In those far-distant centuries mankind were so given over to the pleasures of the senses that they built a temple to Venus Callipyge. This was how it happened. A countryman had two fair daughters; they were contending one day with each other about the beauty of their hips, each declaring that hers were the most beautiful, and so disputing they came upon the highway. A young man happening to pass that way whose father was already well in years, they at once submitted themselves to the judgment of his eyes, and he pronounced in favour of the eldest. But at the same time he fell so deeply in love with her, that he had hardly arrived at the town before he fell ill, kept his bed, and told his young brother what had happened to him. The latter hastened to the fields to look at the young girls, and fell in love with the youngest. Their father sought in vain to persuade them to unite themselves with better families. So, being obliged to yield, he obtained the consent of the father of the two sisters, whom he sent for immediately from the fields, and married his sons with them. This event caused the name of Callipyge to be given to the two wives among their fellow-citizens, as Cercidas of Megalopolis relates in his iambics.

"These two women, having thus become rich, they caused a temple to be erected to Venus, whom they named Callipyge, according to what Archelaus tells us in his iambics." (Deipnospohistes.)

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The worship of Venus Callipyge was extensively spread over. the whole Greece, where it was still preserved for a long time after the fall of other divinities. It passed over to the continent of Italy, where it did not find fewer devotees, and where it served in some sort as an encouragement to a passion equally outrageous and criminal. The Venus Callipyge was powerless to destroy the abominable worship of the Hylases and Antinouses, and it became itself a new element of debauchery in the shameless times of the Roman decline. It was not then unusual to see scenic games in which young girls appeared entirely naked; the public judged between them in certain contests of the same nature as that which sprang up between the two sisters of whom Athenæus speaks, and the empire received the news as an event.

The voluptuous figure which forms the subject of this article derives its erotic charm chiefly from the arrangement of the vestments. It may in fact, be remarked that absolute nudity is less immodest than partial or accidental nudity. When the Spartans in the circus, and . the Romans at the theatre, saw young and beautiful girls entirely naked, they certainly experienced less voluptuous sensations than when they happened accidentally to catch sight of the nakedness of a woman who might fall awkwardly from her horse, or slip on the pavement of the street. Complete nudity argues a state of independence and freedom which possesses nothing alarming to modesty or seductive to the senses; but partial nudity seems as if reserved for furtive and unusual actions. In order to feel this fully, one should see side by side the Venus de Médici, a chaste divinity entirely nude; and the Venus Callipyge, a voluptuous courtezan, indecently clad.

Numerous copies have been made of this statue. A very remarkable one exists in the park of Versailles.

Next: Plate IV: Sarcophagus