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Capitoline-Type Statue of Aphrodite

Roman art

Composed of various fragments, the statue is a replica of the Modest Aphrodite, also known as ‘Dresden-Capitoline Aphrodite’. The goddess of love, completely nude, her weight on her left leg, is captured in the act of covering her pubic area and left breast; on the right a simple cloth is draped over a smooth surfaced vase serving as a support. Her head is turned to the right, her hair is elaborately styled with locks appealingly tied at the top of her head, the remaining hair in a chignon at the nape of her neck from which two strands escape falling onto her shoulders. The softly modelled Borghese sculpture, a Roman elaboration from the first half of the 2nd century, repeats the realistic and sensual connotations that characterised the Modest Aphrodite (in contrast to Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos), whose archetype is variously dated between the end of the 4th century and the 1st century BCE. 

The statue can perhaps be recognized in one of the various portrayals of Nude Venus mentioned by Manilli and Montelatici in the Villa Borghese Park, or in the statue displayed until at least the mid-18th century in the villa in Mondragone. 

Object details

Prima metà II sec. d.C
Luni marble
alt. senza plinto cm. 183 (testa cm. 27)

Park of Villa (Manilli 1650; Montelatici 1700) or Villa in Mondragone (Villa Mondragone inventory, 1741); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C, n. 71; purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1963 Tito Minguzzi
  • 1996 Liana Persichelli


The sculpture represents Venus, goddess of love and symbol of life force and fertility, in one of its numerous Roman variations. The statue can perhaps be recognised in one of the diverse portrayals of the Nude Venus ‘in the act of stepping out of the bath with a vase nearby with a cloth draped over it’ mentioned by Manilli in 1650 and by Montelatici in 1700 in the Park of the Villa, but it cannot be excluded that it is rather the ‘marble standing Venus above a fountain’ placed, according to the Inventario di Villa Mondragone of 1741, in the ‘loggia facing Villa Tuscolana, next to the dining room’. In 1832 Nibby mentions it amongst the sculptures in Room II, where it is currently placed, without however any mention of the provenance or restorations. 

Pieced together with various fragments, the statue is a replica of the Modest Aphrodite, in her Hellenistic re-elaboration also known as ‘Dresden-Capitoline Aphrodite’ (Brinkerhoff 1971, pp.10-11;) Delivorrias et alii 1984, pp. 52-53, nn. 409-418; Schmidt 1997, pp. 204-205, nn. 112-117) from the best copies of the head (Dresden, Albertinum. Inv. 239) and of the body (Rome, Museo Capitolino, inv.409). The name alludes to the modest gesture, her torso leaning forward and her right arm bent trying to cover her left breast, while the left arm covers her pubic area. Her weight is on her left leg, while the right leg is bent, and slightly forward. The head is turned to the right and slightly bowed; the hair is parted at the centre forming two wide bands around her face, the higher strands of hair are tied in a topknot and the rest is pulled back into a chignon at the nape of her neck from which two lose strands fall onto her shoulders.

The eponymous statue of the type, found in Rome in the 17th century, originates from the Aphrodite of Knidos, created by the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles in mid-4th century BCE: it was the first Greek sculpture of a female nude showing the goddess just before or after a sacred bath. The great renown of Praxiteles’ work resulted in numerous copies and variations: it is difficult to be precise about when the archetype of the Modest Aphrodite was made, its creation is dated between the end of the 4th century and 1st century BCE, attributed, among others, to Cephisodotus the Younger, whose statue in Parian marble, that became part of the Roman collection of Gaius Asinius Pollio in the second half of the 1st century BCE, was considered one of the masterpieces of marble sculpture (Pliny, Naturalis Historia XXXVI, 24). The great success of this model in the Greek and Oriental ambits in the mid and late Hellenistic period, confirmed by the numerous reproductions also in a smaller size and by the coining of Asiatic cities in the Imperial era, was followed by its wide circulation with hundreds of copies in all the provinces of the Roman Empire.

The variety of display contexts – private contexts, with frequent adaptations of the type for iconic statues, and public contexts, above all in thermal baths, nymphaea, fountains – resulted in a certain iconographic liberty in the reproductions. This is quite clearly seen in the various solutions adopted for the support, which in this case is a smooth surfaced vase on which a simple cloth is draped, or in some cases is an ornate loutrophoros with a fringed cloth draped over it – like the Capitoline example – or a dolphin (Algiers, National Museum, inv. 5), a Triton (Vatican Museums, inv. 263bis), a tree trunk, or Eros (MANN, inv.6296).

The softly modelled Borghese replica, with a full drape without the fabrics resulting over abundant – comparable with an Aphrodite in the Farnese collection in Naples (MANN, inv. 6283) – repeats the realistic and sensual connotations, as well as the flowing contours that characterise the Modest Aphrodite in contrast to Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos; the process used for the hair and the drape, for which a drill was not used, allow us to date itto the mid-2nd century CE.

Jessica Clementi

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 75.
  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, pp. 22, 83.
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 78, n.6.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 14, n.21.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 917, n.21.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p.16, n.21.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 27.
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p. 24.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione), Roma 1954, p. 10.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 10, n. 51.
  • D. M. Brinkerhoff, Figures of Venus, Creative and Derivatives. Studies Presented to G. M. A. Haufmann, Mainz 971, in part. pp. 10-11.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 15.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 100, fig. a p. 85.
  • A. Delivorrias et alii, s.v. Aphrodite, in “Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae”, II,1 Zürich München 1984, pp. 52-53, nn. 409-418.
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità”, 1, 1987, pp. 339-371, in part. p. 346.
  • E. Schmidt, s.v. Venus, in “Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae”, VIII,1 Zürich München 1997, pp. 204-205, nn. 112-117.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 100, n. 26a.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, pp. 182-83, n. 162.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/00147834, P. Moreno 1975; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021