The Mysteries and Meanings Behind 6 Fascinating Sculptures

Stefan Andrews
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There are works of sculpture which are “imperfect” yet their effect is magical. Others are just stunning thanks to an intriguing feature left there by their sculptor.

Besides aesthetics, sculptures can fascinate us either because of how they were created, how they were found, or how they ended up in the center of a fight of who should really own them.

These masterpieces have proven influential to modern art. Below is a list of six and the intriguing mysteries surrounding them.

The charming Venus de Milo without arms

Sepia-toned image of a vintage copy statue of Venus (or Aphrodite) de Milo, a famous Greek sculpture dating back to about 100 BC and found in 1820 on the Aegean island of Milos. The original statue is in the Louvre museum in Paris.

In a fantastic display of ancient Greek art, today displayed at the Louvre in Paris, a Hellenistic sculptor called Alexandros of Antioch carved the body of a Greek goddess. His sculpture is known as Venus de Milo and also Aphrodite of Milos.

Created circa 100 BC, the piece is thought to depict the Greek goddess of love and beauty — Aphrodite. Her nudity and eroticism are omnipotent even with the absence of limbs. To the Romans this goddess was Venus.

Venus de Milo on display at the Louvre. Photo by Livioandronico2013 BY-SA 4.0

The sculpture resurfaced on the Greek island of Milos, in the Aegean Sea, in 1820. It quickly became the subject of conflict. Both Turkish and French navy troops wanted to pledge ownership over the sculpture. It was the French who eventually managed to ship the attractive antique to their country.

Opinions are divided whether the arms of Venus suffered during this confrontation or they were missing prior that. The piece inspired Salvador Dali to make a plaster reproduction, known as Venus de Milo with Drawers, in 1936.

Nike of Samothrace – victory goddess armless and headless

Statuette of goddess Nike found in Vani, Georgia

One more treasured artifact of the Louvre is the 18-foot statue of Nike, which depicts the Greek goddess of victory with wings. The iconic piece is missing more body parts than Venus, though that also adds to its authenticity.

Made from golden Parian marble and called the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the origins of this famous depiction of Nike are shrouded in mystery — just as the story of what happened to its long gone head and arms.

Niké, goddess of victory. Photo by frans16611 CC By 2.0

The piece, dated to some time around the 2nd century BC, was possibly produced on Rhodes, the Greek island famed for one of the seven ancient wonders, the Colossus of Rhodes. However, the sculpture, rediscovered in 1863, is dedicated to another Greek island — Samothrace.

There have been numerous attempts to restore the sculpture’s head and arms but to no fruition.

A famous Lucifer sculpture in Belgium is not the original

Lucifer of Liège. Photo by Luc Viatour CC BY-SA 3.0

There is a famous sculpture of Lucifer, the fallen angel, found in St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Belgian city of Liège. It’s a Neo-Gothic marble piece, but this is not the original one that was installed in the cathedral in 1842.

Horns, and a collocation of human and animal anatomy (detail) Photo by Luc Viatour CC BY-SA 3.0

The Genius of Evil, as the name of the sculpture goes, was the creation of Belgian sculptor Guillaume Geefs. He was assigned to complete this sculpture in order to replace The Angel of Death, a controversial work of sculpture done by his brother, Joseph.

Joseph’s sculpture was condemned for it appeared to depict Lucifer as too beautiful and too sexual. Not acceptable as cathedral decor.

Detail of Le Génie du Mal: chained ankle, tasted apple, broken sceptre. Photo by Luc Viatour CC BY-SA 3.0

Guillaume’s replacement, which also displays nudity, includes details that were appropriated to give a more serious tone to the entire piece. Such as a worried expression on the face, and Lucifer is also holding a crown and a broken scepter in one of his hands. Both hint that he has lost his powers.

Michelangelo’s perfect David is imperfect marble

The statue of David by Michelangelo Bunarroti at Piazza della Signorria in Florence, Italy

One of the many masterpieces left by the genius Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo is his sculpture depicting the famous biblical figure David. The piece can be seen in Florence, at the city’s Galleria dell’Accademia, where it was relocated in 1873.

Statue of David carved by Michelangelo in Piazza della Signoria of Florence, Italy

It happened in 1991 that a man damaged the statue’s foot using a hammer. The incident revealed an interesting detail about the statue’s composition.

The marble, it was determined, was prone to degenerate faster compared to other types of marble.

Which doesn’t mean that David will soon fall apart, though it did prompt officials to take precautionary measures and engage in better maintenance of the artwork.

Another interesting detail is that David’s eyes are pointed to look towards Rome.

Raffaele Monti’s mysterious see-through veiled sculptures

The Veiled Virgin. Photo by Shhewitt CC BY-SA 4.0.

Raffaelle Monti was a 19th century Italian sculptor who became famous for his illusionist sculptures using marble.

A quick glance at Monti’s fantastic feats such as The Veiled Vestal Virgin reveals the presence of a translucent veil falling over the sculpted face. The incredible part is that the veil, which recurs as a motif on other pieces created by Monti, is made of marble just like the rest of the composition.

Veiled Vestal Virgin by Raffaele Monti. Photo by Chris Neale CC BY 2.0

To achieve the mesmerizing effect of gentleness, Monti used a rare type of marble that had two distinctive layers, one dense and another more transparent.

Monti would exploit the stone in his workshop to the point where he achieved a semi-translucent material. Applied on a sculptured face, the stone effectively gave a real-veil look.

Veiled Vestal c. 1848. Now at Chatsworth House.

Thanks to his beautiful artwork, Monti became quite famous in Britain where he fled following his involvement in the first Italian War of Independence (1848-1849).

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Not your average Moses – this one has horns

Statue of Moses by Michelangelo, in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome. Photo by Alvesgaspar CC BY-SA 4.0

Peculiarities can be observed on another of Michelangelo’s work. His take on Moses was carved from 1513-1515, that is some 15 years after the sculpture of David was completed.

The Moses sculpture was set to adorn the lavish tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome, and intriguingly enough, Moses has two horns on his head.

Detail of the statue’s bicorned head. Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna CC BY 3.0

Michelangelo, like other artists at the time, was driven to envision a Moses with horns probably because of a single translation mistake in the Bible.

He would have used a copy of the Vulgate, the Bible which St. Jerome translated into Latin in 405 AD. A description of Moses there informs the readers that the biblical character had horns on his head, instead of radiating light. It comes down to the Hebrew word “Keren” which may denote both “radiance” and “horns”.

Illustration of Moses with horns from a 13th century illuminated manuscript

At the San Pietro in Vincoli Basilica in Rome, where Pope Julius II’s tomb is, the Moses sculpture was originally supposed to occupy the upper part of a larger memorial.

Read another story from us: Symbolic to the Max – The Eerie Story of the Veiled Virgin

The original ideation Michelangelo had for the tomb was never accomplished as the memorial remained smaller yet still magnificent. The two-horned statue remained on the ground level; regardless, it’s the main reason why people are drawn to visit the basilica.