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Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo Paperback – November 9, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031338
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031337
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,503,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1820 on the island of Melos, a young French naval officer and a local farmer discovered the hulking halves of an armless statue. The Venus de Milo has since graced car advertisements, adorned matchboxes and inspired artists from Dali to Jim Dine. Former Texas Monthly editor Curtis simply chalks up the Venus's omnipresence to its timeless beauty, and he impressively details an era when the statue seemed "less like a thing than an event." Relating how the French returned to Melos just in time to intercept a Russian boat bearing their treasure away, Curtis dismisses the mythic "fight on the beach" in which the Venus supposedly lost her arms; she had been found without them. Inspired by Johann Winckelmann's theories of Greek art, the Louvre's officials insisted on dating their acquisition to the classical age, rather than to the Hellenistic period of artistic decadence. Hence, the inscribed base that attributed the work to the Hellenistic sculptor Alexandros was conveniently "lost" for a time. For his part, Curtis ventures that the Venus once stood in the niche of a Greek gymnasium and held an apple, symbol of Melos and of the debate that launched the Trojan War. But more compellingly, his sense of a good anecdote revives the myriad characters (often shown among the 21 illustrations) who furiously debated the statue's origin, identity and even placement in the Louvre as late as the 20th century. Such scholars exuded "an enthusiasm for the statue, almost a gratitude for its presence in their lives." This enthusiasm, Curtis's work suggests, is what museum-goers maintain and contemporary critics too often forget; his judicious book may push them to remember.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The Venus de Milo receives throngs of admirers every day in the Louvre, her white marble luminescent, her pose enigmatic since no one knows the position her missing arms once took. Every bit as iconic as the Mona Lisa, this powerful Greek statue has elicited far less modern research. This combination of ubiquitousness and invisibility inspired Curtis to take a fresh approach to the deliciously convoluted tale of the stone goddess' discovery by a French naval ensign on the unlovely Aegean island of Melos in 1820, and all the anxious and nefarious wrangling, debate, and controversy that followed, including the convenient disappearance of an inscribed base that attributed the statue not to one of Greece's golden age sculptors, as claimed, but rather to a "nobody" working in the civilization's declining years. His pleasure in his complex subject palpable on every sparkling page, Curtis parses nineteenth-century Europe's fervor for all things classical, provides gossipy profiles of amazingly eccentric officials and scholars, and, finally, renews our appreciation for a masterpiece as beautiful as it is mysterious. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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The Venus de Milo has become a symbol of great art, as well as kitsch.
David B Richman
This included much wishful thinking and groundless speculation, in addition to selective use of the available data.
Bruce Loveitt
After all this speculation, I REALLY wanted a drawing of the arms in the "most likely" position.
Ohioan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on October 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Venus de Milo has become a symbol of great art, as well as kitsch. It has been used in advertising throughout the world because of its ease of recognition. While everybody knows the identity of the statue almost immediately, few know the story of its discovery, transport from Melos in Greece to the Louvre, and the controversy that followed. Gregory Curtis has given "flesh" to the marble by his often masterful descriptions of the actions of a few all too human men who were associated in some way with the statue after its discovery. From Voutier, who actually recognized the stature as something of value after it had been discovered by a local farmer, through d'Urville who successfully took credit for the discovery, to Reinach and Furtwängler who argued over the history of the Venus, the story is one of intrigue and curiously eccentric people.

We now know the Venus was a Hellenistic rather than a classical Greek sculpture. French pride kept that truth from emerging for many years, but also it was burdened with the idea that Hellenistic art was inferior. Indeed, so set was this idea that anything of such notable merit as the Venus must have come from the studio of a great of the classic age of Greece. The inscription found with it on an associated piece that fit the base had to thus be unassociated! Wishful thinking is a hallmark of humanity!

This is a well-written piece and should find readership with those who like to not only appreciate art, but to understand its history as well.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on October 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a remarkable book, especially for a "first-time" author! There is so much fascinating information contained in the space of 200 pages, it's a tribute to Mr. Curtis (and his editor) that he was able to sandwich everything in - and to keep the sandwich neat and tidy. The book is a joy to read, from when the statue is uncovered by a farmer on the Aegean island of Melos right up until the final flourish, when Mr. Curtis presents his conclusions concerning who sculpted the Venus, when it was done, and what makes the statue a great piece of art. At first, there was a dispute about who was going to get possession of the Venus - the Turks or the French. Mr. Curtis explains why it was so important for the French to bring home this prize: Greek works were considered the epitome of art, if they were from the classical period (around the 4th century B.C.). It was thought that you could do no better than to imitate what the Greeks had done, and the best way to imitate the Greeks was to have their works where your own artists could study them, copy them, and gain inspiration from them. The British had the famous Elgin marbles and the Vatican had the Apollo Belvedere (which was removed from the Louvre and returned to Italy after Napoleon's final defeat), so it was very important to the French that they "bring home the bacon" and get the Venus to Paris. Mr. Curtis did extensive research and it really shows: in addition to the story of the Venus, we learn a lot about Greek society, including the role of women and female sexuality. Mr. Curtis also gives us a crash course in Greek mythology (we need this information in order to understand his conclusions about why the statue was located where it was, its purpose, and what position the missing arms would have been in and what they were doing).Read more ›
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Fisher on September 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There aren't many titles about the Venus de Milo, and far fewer in English yet.
Gregory Curtis has written an entertaining and informative book that tells more than the usual cut and dry history and dates for the Venus de Milo. He has written a book that introduces a whole range of characters that had a direct influence on the statue from the time of her discovery on Milos through her arrival at the Louvre and her subsequent history.
I've always fancied myself as an armchair student of the Venus, but learned some new and fascinating things.
The book is a breeze to read. I only wish there had been many more illustrations and preferably some color shots.
Mr. Curtis is convincing in his opinion that the somewhat rough and crude arms found with the statue were probably the originals, but unfortunately, there is no illustration to show how the statue would have looked when she was finished.
This will make an excellent addition to art history libraries and enthusiasts bookcases everywhere.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ohioan on November 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read a glowing review of this book and so, because I'm always interested in well-written nonfiction, I decided to give it a try -- and am I ever glad I did. I've since passed the book on to friends who have likewise enjoyed it.

In very readable, smooth-flowing prose, the author reconstructs the story of how the Venus de Milo ended up in the Louvre. The story begins in the early 1800s, with a French officer stationed in Greece, and continues pretty much into the present day, tracing the disputes over the finding and expropriating (by the French) of the statue, its shipment to Paris, its placement in the museum, its storage, and all the controversies surrounding each of these steps. And more.

I did experience a minor frustration with this book, but not enough to lessen my five-star rating. The frustration was that the author spends some time throughout the book theorizing about the position of the statue's missing arms: what was Venus doing with her arms? After all this speculation, I REALLY wanted a drawing of the arms in the "most likely" position. But none was provided.
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