Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Ancient Greek/Roman/Libyan Venuses: Aphrodite Kyrene and Leptis Magna Venus

Today we have a story of treasures taken from their origin and latterly returned which, strangely, mirrors the fate of the wife of one of the owners of one of these statues. Here is the splendid statue known as The Aphrodite of Kyrene. Aphrodite was the Greek Goddess of love, beauty and (the one that is often left out) sexual rapture. She is, of course, the Roman Venus.

Most people know that she arose from the sea and, indeed, her name is derived from ἀφρός (aphros) meaning foam. The full, rather bloodthirsty, myth is that she was born when Ouranos (Uranus) was castrated by his son Kronos who overthrew his father. Kronos was later the father of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Kronos threw the severed genitals into the sea which started to boil and foam. From this foam arose Aphrodite and the sea carried her to Cyprus on a scallop shell.

Kyrene today

Kyrene, where the statue was found, was a Greek city founded in 610 BC which lies in what are now the Jebel Akhdar higlands of Libya. The city was named after the huntress daughter of King Hypseus of Lapthis. In 1912 the Italians grabbed the region from the Ottoman Empire and the following year the statue was discovered by Italian troops when torrential rain washed away the topsoil at Trajan's Baths. It was sent off to Rome where it was displayed in the Baths of Diocletian. It is a Roman copy of a Greek original probably dating from the second century BC.

The statue in Rome

Last year an Italian court ruling said that the statue should be returned to Libya under an agreement between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libyan leader Col. Gadaffi (along with $5 billion in compensation for their occupation of Libya from 1912 until 1943). Italy has previously returned another Venus to Libya (the Leptis Magna Venus) to help in their global campaign to retrieve their own "looted antiquities".

The Leptis Magna Venus in Tripoli

The Leptis Magna Venus is also a Roman copy (2nd Century BC) of a Greek original by the famous sculptor Praxiteles (4th Century BC). It was excavated in Leptis Magna (also in Libya) in the 1920s and was acquired by Benito Mussolini who gave it as a present to Hermann Göring who displayed it in the Festhalle of his country estate, Carinhall, near Berlin.

The Leptis Magna Venus in Carinhall


The use of a "C" for the start of a word is unusual in German but Carinhall was named after Göring's wife Carin von Kantzow (nee Fock), the daughter of a Swedish aristocrat. Göring met her after the Great War when he was making a living as a pilot flying passengers and mail between Germany and Sweden.
They married in 1923 (after she had divorced her husband) and, as an ardent Nazi it was her who encouraged him to become more involed in the National Socialist party. She died of tuberculosis in 1931 and was buried in Sweden. Two years later Göring collected her remains and entombed her in a specially built crypt at the house he was building, which he would call Carinhall in her memory. Carinhall saw many famous guests other than senior Nazis and Mussolini. Former American President Herbert Hoover, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Charles Lindbergh, the kings of Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia and Willi Messerschmitt all stayed there. The house was destroyed in March 1945 on Göring's orders to stop the Russians capturing it.
Hitler and Göring at carin's tomb at Carinhall
Most (but not all) of the art was removed just before the explosives went off. Carin Göring's tomb was vandalised by Russian troops and her bones scattered. In 1950 a Swedish priest returned to what was now East Germany collected her bones in a sack and returned them to Sweden where she was reburied in the Fock family plot where she had originally been interred in 1931.

Carin Göring's tomb in Sweden

Carin II

In one final, strange twist, Göring named his motor yacht Carin II (the original Carin, he decided was not imposing enough). It survived the war and was even used, it is said, by the Royal family on trips to Holland in the 1950s. Latterly this was bought by a man who was trying to build a resort..in Libya! He got into trouble with Gaddafi and was imprisoned there for a year. He died and the yacht, now lying in the Red Sea in Egypt. is up for sale by his widow!

The Leptis Magna Venus is now on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Tripoli. Next time Agent Triple P is in Tripoli he intends to pop in to see it and, indeed, the Aphrodite Kyrene if it has arrived there by that time!

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