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A Century of Giving

John Gibson

Venus Verticorda (Venus, the Turner of Hearts)


white marble, height 174 cm

The Fitzwilliam Museum: M.4-1975

A beautiful, nude woman poses with her head slightly turned, her left knee forward to emphasise her soft, shapely curves. This is no real woman however but Venus, the goddess of love and beauty herself. The tortoise at her feet may be a reference to her legendary birth from the sea.

Venus' smooth white form and perfect proportions embodied the current ideal of feminine beauty, derived from the statuary of the ancient world. The sculptor, John Gibson (1790-1866), named her 'Venus Verticordia' - worshipped by the Romans as a goddess of chastity.

"The expression I endeavoured to give my Venus was that spiritual elevation of character which results from purity and sweetness, combined with an air of unaffected dignity and grace."

This sculpture was commissioned in c.1850 but Gibson, a British sculptor who spent most of his career in Rome, went on to produce several other versions.

His final experimental treatment caused a sensation when it was exhibited in London in 1862. The so-called 'tinted Venus' was enhanced by red lips, blue eyes, golden hair and pink flesh. 'More suggestive of life than the plain marble', it pushed against the boundaries of acceptable realism in Victorian sculpture.

This rather less controversial statue, bought by the Fitzwilliam in 1975, once greeted visitors in the main Entrance Hall. Its current position in the new Courtyard - a symbolic bridge between the old and the new buildings - seems highly appropriate for a work of art with such enduring themes.

Several other neo-classical sculptures - the Venus and Pysche and The Penitent Magdalen by Marchesi in the main Entrance Hall, and the Veiled Vestal by Monti in Gallery 26 - were also acquired with the Friends' fund during these years.

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