IT was 200 years ago today that one of the world’s most famous statues, the Venus de Milo, was found in the ruins of a long-lost city on the island of Milos or Melos, the south-westernmost island in the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea.

Milos city had once been a major centre of the Dorian people, who included the Sparta. Athens went to war against the Melians and destroyed their city in 416 BC, after which it became integrated into Athenian society.

The statue is called the Venus de Milo because the woman depicted is believed to have been Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, whose Roman equivalent is Venus. De Milo signifies that the statue was found on Milos.

There is a plaque commemorating the place where the statue was found near the modern settlement of Trypiti.


THERE’S some confusion about whether it was found by a peasant farmer named Theodoras Yorgos Kentrotas, or his son, also Yorgos. Whoever exactly found it, there’s no doubt what happened on April 8, 1820.

Kentrotas Senior was clearing a field of stones when he came across a stone slab lying atop a small niche, about 4ft by 5ft, inside of which he could see bits of marble. Whether it was the older or younger Kentrotas who dug them out, they found the two halves of the statue – it was held together by metal tenons – and other marble pieces, such as an arm holding an apple.

They took their find home and cleaned it up, then told the Greek Orthodox village priest, Father Oiconomos, who took charge of trying to sell it for them.


MILOS was then part of the Ottoman Empire, and it seemed likely that the statue would be relocated to Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. Indeed, a trader called Busari appears to have been given first refusal on the statue, which he wanted to take to Constantinople.

As the story spread of the marvellous find, the local French consul Louis Brest intervened, and he informed the officers on board a French ship that had anchored off Milos. One of the officers, Dumont D’Urville, was something of a connoisseur of art, and he came ashore and realised just how valuable the statue was. He informed Count Marcellus, a diplomat at the French embassy in Constantinople, and the French ambassador, the Marquis de Riviere, authorised the purchase. Marcellus was able to persuade the finder to part with it for 6000 francs – or around £24,000 in today’s money. Kentrotas had been prepared to let it go for 1200 francs at first, but the price increased as others circled to make a bid, so Count Marcellus went “all in” to secure the statue.

It should be noted that at no time was there any doubt that the finder had the right to sell it, and the French paid a good price, so there has never been the same demand for the return of the Venus de Milo to Greece as there was over the Parthenon Marbles.


THE short answer is we do not know. It dates from between 300 BC and 100, and is similar to works created by the famed Greek sculptor Praxiteles, to whom it has been attributed. How it came to be in a small cave in Milos is not known, but one theory is that the statue is actually of the sea goddess Amphitrite, who was venerated on Milos. The hand with the apple that was also found on April 8, 1820 is another possible clue, since Milos translates as “apple”. So rather than Venus de Milo, she could have been Amphitrite of the apple island.

The statue is slight larger than life-size and apart from the lost arms, the Venus de Milo is undamaged.


PROPAGANDA, mostly. During his reign, Napoleon Bonaparte seized many works of art from Italy and elsewhere. These included the world-famous statue known as the Medici Venus. After his defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the French were forced to return many of Napoleon’s works of art to their original owners, and the Medici Venus went back to Florence, where it can be seen in the Uffizi Gallery.

The French needed a new “Venus” to be the centre of attraction in Paris, and the Venus de Milo was it.

After Marcellus arranged its passage to France, the Marquis de Riviere and the Count offered the statue to King Louis XVIII, who immediately gave it to the Louvre in Paris where the Venus de Milo has resided to this day, apart from being hidden from the Germans in a country chateau during the Second World War.

Scotland is in lockdown. Shops are closing and newspaper sales are falling fast. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of The National is at stake. Please consider supporting us through this with a digital subscription from just £2 for 2 months by following this link: Thanks – and stay safe.