What Was the Venus de Milo Doing With Her Arms?
The Venus de Milo is a paradox: the embodiment of beauty, yet disfigured. And she is a puzzle, gazing serenely at something we cannot see, something once held, we assume, by her missing arms. “La Vénus de Milo est un mystère,” declared the French archaeologist Salomon Reinach in a 1890 essay, emphasizing the point with italics.
In Reinach’s day, speculation about the statue’s original pose was a minor industry. She was imagined standing beside a warrior—Mars or Theseus—with her left hand grazing his shoulder. She was pictured holding a mirror, an apple, or laurel wreaths, sometimes with a pedestal to support her left arm. She was even depicted as a mother holding a baby. One popular turn-of-the-century theory understood her not as Venus but as Victory, supporting a shield on her left thigh and recording the names of heroes on it with her right hand. Other versions imagined her using the shield as a mirror, the goddess of beauty admiring her reflection.