The story of how the Greeks fought the French and the Ottomans for the statue of Venus de Milo

Aphrodite of Milo, better known as Venus de Milo, is one of the most representative statues of the Hellenistic period Greek sculpture and one of the most famous sculptures Ancient Greece

Created sometime between 130 BC and AD 100, she personifies Aphrodite (called Venus in Roman mythology), the goddess of love and beauty.

The statue was found half-buried in two parts on April 8, 1820, when a farmer with Milos islands by the name of Giorgos (or Theodoros) Kentrotas dug ancient ruins in his field to find the stones needed for the farm. However, instead of ordinary stones, Kentrotas found a statue that turned out to be one of the most famous in the world – Venus or Aphrodite of Milo.

Nearby, in the same area, French naval officers were excavating ancient artifacts. When a Greek farmer’s pickaxe hit something unusual and he dug up a piece of a marble statue, it was noticed by two French sailors involved in the excavation. Kentrotas felt that his discovery was valuable and tried to cover the piece of marble statue with mud again, fearing that the French would grab it or force it to sell to them for much less money than it was worth.

However, the farmer did not deceive the French, and they gathered around his excavation site, urging him to dig further. Kentrotas complied and continued digging until the entire sculpture was found. Fragments of it were transferred to the sheepfold of Kentrotas, and the French had already begun to communicate with consuls and ambassadors in their offices in Constantinople and Smyrna.

Olivier Voutier: French naval officer who discovered Venus de Milo

Olivier Vautier was a French naval officer who oversaw the excavation of antiquities at Milos. He studied archeology, so when he saw the stunning find, he informed his compatriots that he did not have enough money to buy the statue.

Colonel Olivier Vautier.

Along with Venus de Milo, the French discovered two dedications and a plinth with the sculptor’s name inscribed. However, the statue’s missing arms have never been found, and Woutier’s sketch made at the scene shows Venus without arms.

After the opening, the French began negotiations on the purchase price of the statue. The originally proposed price was 400 piastres, known in Greece at the time as the grossi (γρόσι), the currency used by the Ottoman Empire until 1844. However, the negotiations became more difficult, as other parties were involved in them, which made Kentrotas’ opinion of secondary importance. The Ottomans and French admiral Jules Dumont d’Urville entered into negotiations, which delayed the transfer of the statue to France.

200 Greeks were killed trying to keep the statue in Greece

According to Greek historian Dimitris Fotiadis, the islanders learned of Kentrotas’ discovery and deal with the French and reacted with justified anger. The inhabitants of Milos took measures to prevent the French from loading Aphrodite of Milos on a French ship. In the ensuing skirmish, French soldiers fired at the angry islanders and killed several of them. The French finally managed to get the statue on board and sail to Piraeus, but hundreds of Milos residents followed the ship in their small boats.

When the French ship docked in the port of Piraeus, the islanders of Milos and other Greeks gathered there, who were informed about the struggle to preserve the statue. This time, the Greeks’ task was to prevent the ship from going to France and get the statue back.

Fotiadis wrote that at least a thousand Greeks who were in port faced the crew of the French ship, as well as the Ottoman soldiers who were sent there to protect the French. More than 200 Greeks were killed in action, but the statue of Aphrodite of Milo sailed for France on March 1, 1821, just twenty days before modern Greece declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. The statue was donated to King Louis XVIII. The king later donated the priceless Greek statue to the Louvre.

In 1960, a commission of Turkish archaeologists presented André Malraux with a petition demanding the return of Venus de Milo. This request was based on the report of the lawyer Ahmed Rechim, who accused the French of stealing the statue and claimed it belonged to the Ottoman Empire. Malraux declared the idea “cultural blackmail” and refused to return it. It still stands today on display at the Louvre, a mute testament to the massive plundering of Greek art and artifacts over the centuries.

Read also: How the antique Greek statue of Nike of Samothrace turned into … one of the “Ladies of the Louvre”, or the story of the theft of the statue and sending it to the Louvre

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