Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Venus de Milo, a Spinster?

What might the statue we call the Venus de Milo depict?  What is she doing?

Given her missing arms it's hard to know.  The most recent attempt to reconstruct her arms and figure out her possible task uses 3D-printing and the theory that she was spinning thread, a very common task for women all over the world in the past and still in some places.

Virginia Postrel's piece in Slate also mentions several other theories, and clearly we cannot just conclude that the statue depicts a spinster (initially a term for a woman who spins and here used by me as a bad pun, because of the treatment of the statue in more glorified ways as the epitome of female beauty).*

But it's a good hypothesis.  She writes:

Barber, a professor emeritus at Occidental College and the doyenne of textile archeology, proffers a thesis the 19th-century critics never debated. She imagines Venus doing something that occupied endless hours of women’s time before the Industrial Revolution: spinning thread. She suggests that the statue held a distaff of fluffy fibers in her upraised left arm, while with her right she guided the thread toward a weighted drop spindle hanging in front of her. “This was a pose painfully familiar to women in ancient Greek society,” Barber notes.

Hence the 3D-print testing.

What struck me a bit weird about the whole approach is that it doesn't use the expertise of those women who still spin in the same manner.  From Peru:

They would know if the reconstruction looks feasible** and what the odd twist in the statue's back might mean to them, if anything.
* Wonder what her waist-to-hip ratio might be?  That's for evolutionary psychologists who believe that men have always preferred the same ratio and humongous breasts on women.
**Other than the apparently falling fabric around her hips.  Perhaps she is twisting to stop it falling further?  Just kidding.