The Carlos museum has acquired both the head and body of the marble statue of Aphrodite.
Finding Aphrodite: The Goddess of Love loses—then regains—her head
For the first time in perhaps 170 years, an ancient Roman statue of Aphrodite has been reunited with her head, thanks to Michael C. Carlos Museum conservators.
At a Sotheby’s auction on June 6 in New York City, Jasper Gaunt, curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Carlos Museum, won the bid for the headless Roman figure of Aphrodite at $968,000. Directly after acquiring the body, he purchased the head by private sale.
“It’s a fabulous piece of sculpture,” Gaunt told reporters covering the auction, as the story quickly made national news. “It’s quality, quality, quality.”
The Thaw family of New York had consigned the two-thousand-year-old figure, still in stunning form, to Sotheby’s summer sale of antiquities. The Aphrodite was missing her head and her right arm.
A Sotheby’s staffer had found an 1836 engraving that showed the body with its head, and recognized the head as one that sold at Sotheby’s in 2002. The house then contacted the head’s owner in Houston, who offered to sell it for $50,000 to the body’s buyer.
“When you have one of the best and most complete examples of one of the finest statues in the ancient world, that’s rather thrilling. This was an incredibly exciting moment for our institution,” says Gaunt, who purchased the statue with a donation from Thalia Carlos, Michael C. Carlos’ widow.
The four-foot-six-inch statue portrays the goddess of love, also known as Venus, nude, attempting to cover herself with her hands, with a small figure of Eros riding a dolphin at her feet (an artistic homage to her ocean birth). It was first documented in the collection of Napoleon’s art adviser in the 1830s.
“We are actively building a collection of ancient art of peerless quality, and this piece is without question the finest Aphrodite in the United States,” says Gaunt, who added that the statue will be exhibited—indeed, serve as a centerpiece of the collection—after it is cleaned and rejoined.
“The opportunity to own a piece of this importance in its entirety,” he said, “was irresistible.”—M.J.L.