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Title: Venus - To the Venus of Melos
Author: Rodin, Auguste
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         TO THE VENUS OF MELOS




                         TO THE VENUS OF MELOS

                             AUGUSTE RODIN

                         AUTHORIZED TRANSLATION
                           FROM THE FRENCH BY
                             DOROTHY DUDLEY


                        NEW YORK: B. W. HUEBSCH

                            COPYRIGHT, 1912,
                            BY B. W. HUEBSCH

                           PRINTED IN U.S.A.


                         TO THE VENUS OF MELOS

Modelled by the sea, which is the reservoir of all the forces, you
enchant us and you sway us by that grace and by that calm which strength
alone possesses, and you bestow on us your serenity. It prevails like
the charm of melodies powerful and deep.

What triumphant amplitude! What vigorous shadows!

From the boundaries of the two worlds’ throngs come to contemplate you,
venerated marble; and the twilight deepens in the room that you may be
more clearly seen, shining alone, while the silent hours pass, heavy
with admiration.

Still you hear our clamours, immortal Venus! Having loved your
contemporaries, you belong to us, now, to all of us, to the universe.
The twenty-five centuries of your life seem only to have consecrated
your invincible youth. And the generations, those waves of the ocean of
the ages, to you, victorious over time, come and come again, attracted
and recalled irresistibly. Admiration is not spent as a marble wears

To the poets, to the seekers, to the quiet artists, in the heart of the
city’s tumult, you give long moments of refuge. Mutilated, you remain
entire to their eyes. If the ravages of time have been permitted, it is
only that a trace may continue of their profane effort and of their

You are not a vain and sterile statue, the image of some unreal goddess
of the Empyrean. Ready for action, you breathe, you are a woman: and
that is your glory. You are goddess only in name; the mythological
nectar does not run in your veins. What is divine in you is the infinite
love of your sculptor for nature. More ardent and above all more patient
than other men, he was able to lift a corner of the veil too heavy for
their idle hands.

And you are not, moreover, a mosaic of admirable shapes. There are no
admirable shapes, but the shapes that agree, those that summon and
presuppose one another according to the irrefutable logic of harmonious
necessity, those that borrow life from one another. Yours gather in an
indivisible whole, and it is the calm torrent of life that passes over
you, that torrent whence you have sprung, naked and one.

Collected beauties could never have attained this unity. One detail that
harmonized not with all the others, the least variance between the
profiles, and the work of art would be destroyed, a useless thing, a
senseless construction, renounced by the light, and doomed to all the
poverties, to all the discords. This would be fatally the lot of even a
clever assemblage, of even perfect pieces, chosen from different

But you, you live, you think, and your thoughts are those of a woman,
and not of I know not what superior being, foreign, imaginary,
artificial. You are made only of truth; and it is of truth alone that
your omnipotence is born. There is nothing strong, there is nothing
beautiful outside of the truth.

Your truth is within reach of everyone: it is woman, whom each one
thinks he knows, the intimate companion of men; yet nobody has seen her,
the wise not more than the simple. And the trees, who looks at them? The
light has no spectators.

Nevertheless, except through confining oneself to the observation of
reality, constant, scrupulous, and ever more profound, no one can
accomplish anything. There are people who say to you, “The Ideal.” If
this word is not void of meaning, it signifies only a stupidity. The
Ideal! The Fantasy! But the realities of nature surpass our most
ambitious fancies. Our thought is but an imperceptible point in nature.
The part does not embrace, does not dominate the whole.

Man is incapable of creating, of inventing. He can only approach nature,
submissively, lovingly. For the rest, she will not disappear from his
sight; he has but to look, she will let him see what by force of
patience he has arrived at understanding—that only. And yet the part is
beautiful! He is an equal of Prometheus, he, who has known how to ravish
from nature the life we adore in the Venus of Melos.

Nothing will take the place of persevering study. To it alone the secret
of life delivers itself. Give your life patiently, passionately to
understanding life. What profit, if you come indeed to understand! You
will be in the circle of joy forever.

To understand, to see—truly to see! Would one recoil before the
necessary effort, before the indispensable apprenticeship, however long
and laborious, if he foresaw the happiness of understanding?

To understand! It is—not to die!

For me the antique masterpieces are mingled in my memory with all the
pleasures of my youth; or rather the Antique is my youth itself that
rises again to my heart and hides from me my age. In the Louvre, of old,
like saints to a monk in his cloister, the Olympian gods said to me all
that a young man might usefully hear; later they protected and inspired
me; after an absence of twenty years, I found them again with an
indescribable joy, and I understood them. These divine fragments, these
marbles, older than two thousand years, speak to me louder, move me more
than human beings. In its turn may the new century meditate upon these
marvels, and may it try to ascend to them through intelligence and love.
It will owe to them its highest joys. Man may be the forger of his

The Antique and Nature are bound by the same mystery. The Antique—it is
the human workman arrived at a supreme degree of mastery. But Nature is
above him. The mystery of Nature is even more insoluble than that of
genius. The glory of the Antique is in having understood Nature.

O, Venus of Melos, the prodigious sculptor that fashioned you knew how
to make the thrill of that generous nature flow in you, the thrill of
life itself—O, Venus, arch of the triumph of life, bridge of truth,
circle of grace!

What splendour in your beautiful torso seated firmly on your solid legs,
and in those half tones that sleep upon your breasts, upon your splendid
belly, large like the sea! It is the rhythmic beauty of the sea without
end.... You are in truth the mother of gods and of men.

The generative profile of that torso helps us to understand, reveals to
us the proportions of the world. And the miracle is in this, that the
assembled profiles, in the sense of depth, of length, and of width,
express, by an incomprehensible magic, the human soul and its passions,
and the character that shapes the heart of beings.


The ancients have obtained by a minimum of gesture, by their modelling,
both the individual character and the grace borrowed from grandeur that
relates the human form to the forms of the universal life. The modelling
of the human being has with them all the beauty of the curved lines of
flowers. And the profiles are secure, ample like those of great
mountains; it is architecture. Above all they are simple; they are calm
like the serpents of Apollo.

Perhaps it is the terms of anatomy that have had the deplorable effect
of imposing on the mind the prejudice toward the division of the shapes
of the body. The great geometric and magnetic line of life hence remains
as if broken in the regard of the passer-by. This theoretical analysis
has altered among the uninitiated the sense of the truth.

The work of art protests against this false and factitious idea of
division. Those concordant shapes that pass one into the other as
undulate the knots of the reptile, and that suddenly penetrate, they are
the body in its magnificent unity.

Left to themselves the ignorant see only the apparent details of things;
the source of expression, the synthesis alone eloquent, escapes them. It
is lamentable that anatomic description gives in some measure support to
the plastic ignorance of the multitude, in calling attention, through
its terms, to the different parts of which the architecture of the body
is composed. Those pedantic words, biceps, triceps, brachial or crural,
and so many others, those current words, arms, legs, plastically have no
significance. In the synthesis of the work of art, the arms, the legs,
count only when they meet in accordance with the planes that associate
them in a same effect, and it is thus in nature, who cares not for our
analytical descriptions. The great artists proceed as nature composes
and not as anatomy decrees. They never sculpture any muscle, any nerve,
any bone for itself; it is the whole at which they aim, and which they
express; it is by large planes that their work vibrates in the light or
enters into the shadow.

Thus from the point whence I am looking at the Venus of Melos, all of
the three-quarter profile is streaming with light, while the opposite
side bathes in the shadow. Toward the base of this profile one just
distinguishes half-tones. Higher up, farther away, the head rises and
reigns, modelled by light and shade, while the reposing lines, the
sloping lines of the back play together their slow melodies. What
condescendence the long gentle lines of that back express, and the
flight of the loins into the half-tone! Sublime pride of marble!
Tranquil life of the soul of the body! Nature is an uninterrupted

Consider the Venus from any profile you choose. That we were just
admiring is of a beauty that invokes, that imposes the idea of the
eternal. But change your position; here is another profile: it is
equally marked with the seal of the imperishable. All of them incite
admiration and tenderness. They are happy, at ease in the calm air.

That face has the variety and the liberty of a flower, and the artist,
leaning attentively over it, rises as one vowed to religion: he has
heard Venus speak.

I will walk round her.... Here is another profile that shows me the
face. There is shadow in that mouth; a moment ago there was none; to
drawing is added modelling, and the lines that hesitated have become
decided. The edge of the lips is slightly rimmed, the edge of the
nostrils also; these are the signs of youth. The mouth has in it the
drawing of the school, but it is on the plane of a master. The error
would be to seek the measurement of the lips. It is all in the plane of
the head, of the cheek. That cheek, which appears to me lost in profile,
that cheek is all of sculpture, as one virtue is every virtue.—O mouth
so simple, so natural, so generous! It holds thousands of kisses!
Impossible to escape its charm. Even the most ignorant visitor is
touched by it. How clearly one sees that the woman has posed for the

The soul of shapes breathes in the profound life of this thrilling body.
I see her magnificent armature of bones as I see her thoughts—all her
grace hidden and present, how powerfully organized! In this form sweet
as honey, where the eye surprises neither blacks nor violent lights, but
where life flows without jerks or starts, clear as live water, one feels
keenly the resistance of a resolute and powerful frame! Supported by
these bases that will not weaken, sure of their solidity, the flesh
bounds with joy as if it would escape the redoubled shadows deepening
under the breasts, that they may rise from the torso, whence glowing
light would seem to emanate.

And the high adorable face gives to every one gracious welcome of life.

The shadows, the divine play of shadows on antique marbles! One might
say that shadows love masterpieces. They hang upon them, they make for
them adornment. I find only among the Gothics and with Rembrandt such
orchestras of shadows. They surround beauty with mystery; they pour
peace over us, and allow us to hear without trouble that eloquence of
the flesh that ripens and amplifies the spirit. That eloquence darts on
us the truth, diffuse as light. It is the radiancy of gladness. What
secret emotion invades me before the meditated grace of this design!
Ineffable passages of light into shadow! Inexpressible splendours of
half tones! Nests of love! What marvels that have not yet a name in this
sacred body! Venus Genetrix! Venus Victorum! O, total glory of grace and
of genius!


Admiration overtakes me like sleep.

The Venus of Melos is reflected by all the others: in them is
accentuated one or another of her infinite beauties.

In this one, free of all draperies, the modelling of the shadows makes
the flesh breathe even more voluptuously; that thigh, column of life, is
literally quivering.

In this other, the light and shade of the belly and of the legs produce
a kind of fluctuation where passes all of love; all its intoxication and
then its appeasement. The upper part of the body inclines in a gesture
of reverence; movement how gracious! Where the Gothic and the
Renaissance find their symbol.

And again this one, what instinct bends it into an arc of grace! A
single curve made of all those, of the shoulders, of the legs, of the
thighs, designs the kneeling Venus.

I possess a little masterpiece, which long baffled all the habits of my
eyes and of my mind, all my understanding. I have vowed to it deep
gratitude, for it has made me think a great deal.

This figure belongs to the epoch of the Venus of Melos. It gives me the
same sensation of modelling, powerful and abundant; it has the same ease
in the grandeur of its forms, although they are materially of reduced
proportions. What calm intoxication it breathes and inspires, or,
rather, what luxury of pleasure!

The beautiful shadows that caress it have all the same direction, turn
all in the same sense. With what science, with what wisdom they cause
the breasts to jut, and then, slumbering on the wide belly, vigorously
model the thighs!

One of the arms at the side is drawn back and drowned in delicate light
and shade. The gesture of the other arm holds the draperies over the
thighs to gather below the belly fervent shadow.

Shadow, desired by the artist, makes for all this figure a first tunic,
veiling certain shapes and discovering others of them. Looking closely,
one sees that all these varied tones are underscored by a single dark
line, the line of strength.

It is the principle of beautiful sculpture as of beautiful architecture.
The expression of life, in order to keep the infinite suppleness of
reality, must never be stopped or fixed. The dark element, essential to
the effect, must then be carefully contrived.

One observes that the antique masterpieces have all been treated in this
way. That is why they produce the impression of sweet measure and of

Badly proportioned the results are truly blasphemies against nature.
They no longer have eloquence, and breed only harshness and meagreness.
From a distance, moreover, measure yields the most powerful results. The
Venus of Melos in particular owes to this moderation her power of
effect. There is nothing abrupt. Approaching her step by step, one
imagines that she has been gradually modelled by the continuous effort
of the sea.

Is this not what the Ancients wished to say in affirming that Aphrodite
was born of the womb of the waters?


                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

 1. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as

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