Venus Victrix by Canova
Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix (or Venus Victorious) is a semi-nude life-size neo-Classical portrait sculpture by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. It was commissioned by Pauline Bonaparte’s husband Camillo Borghese and executed in Rome from 1805 to 1808 after she married the representative of the Borghese family. Then, the sculpture moved to Camillo’s house in Turin, then to Genoa, only arriving in the Galleria Borghese around 1838.
She was making quite a stir among her contemporaries, the princess dressed within the guise of the goddess Venus, who was triumphant within the Judgment of Paris, to exaggerate her social and dynastic status and her popular magnificence. Paolina (1780-1825) lies semi-nude on painted wood dormers beautified with gilded insets. Her slim fingers holding the apple credited to the goddess as a sign recognizing her supremacy among the female divinities. Antiquated beauty and compositional guile come together within the realistic, nearly pictorial rendering of the delicate tissue and the light cloak covering her hips.
Around 1805 Canova was commissioned to carve the statue by Pauline’s spouse when the lady was 25 years old but was a socialite and was at the top of her social success. In fact, in 1804, Napoleon had announced himself Emperor of the French, and Pauline Bonaparte had expected the title of Imperial Highness.
Canova chose a theme from Greek mythology to create this masterpiece. He portrayed Pauline while holding an apple in her left hand, evoking Venus’ victory in the contest between the three most beautiful goddesses of Olympus (Hera or Juno, Athena or Minerva, and Aphrodite or Venus) for the prize of a golden apple addressed “To the Fairest.”