Venus Victrix (or Venus Victorious) 1804-1806
by Antonio Canova
(Galleria Borghese, Rome)
This semi-nude, life-size, neo-Classical sculpted portrait depicts Paolina Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister) in the guise of the Goddess Venus.
The sculpture was commissioned by her husband Camillo Borghese when Paolina was 25 years old and at the height of her social success.
Paolina is depicted lying languidly and gracefully on a plush sofa. Her right elbow rests atop two luxurious pillows. In her left hand, she delicately cradles the golden apple awarded to the Goddess Venus by Paris as a symbol of her supremacy among the female divinities.
Paolina’s hips and legs are draped in a light cloak. Her skin is milky smooth; it glistens in the light. Her hairstyle is elaborate, imbuing her presence with a sense of extravagance and luxury.
This sculpted disguise raised quite a few eyebrows among her contemporaries. In depicting herself as the Goddess Venus, the French princess was magnifying and accentuating her social status and her popularity.
I am in awe of Canova’s naturalistically carved sofa mattress; the delicate folds really challenge the limitations of marble.