135. Silver Gilt Statue of a Modest Venus

Rome, 2nd–3rd century AD
Size: 32.5 cm high

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The exact circumstances of this cult statue’s discovery remain unknown. It is the only example of a ‘Modest Venus’ found in Central Asia, the others being considerably more Flamboyant! She’s all the more attractive for that, with her body-hugging dress, her jewellery, coiffure, mirror and gently flexed leg. Everything that transforms a concubine into a divinity. More remarkable still is its manufacture, since it was beaten out from a single sheet of silver, of which the two extremities were folded and soldered together. The mirror, base and forearm were made separately and then soldered, and the gilding was applied with mercury. Because of the great skill involved, it has to be assumed that it came from the workshop of a highly skilled silversmith in Rome. It thus illustrates the close trade links that existed between Rome and Afghanistan, the latter sitting at the crossroads of all the major trade routes, one, but not all of which, led to Rome. The ivory sculpture of a luscious Indian female found at Pompeii, thus dating before AD 79 and now in the Museo Archeologico Nationale in Naples, is a further example of this exchange. Her eroticism is unmatched by the wall paintings from the lupanars of Pompei, illustrating the gulf between the gloriously erotic and the morbidly pornographic.

Published: O. Bopearachchi, A Gilded silver statue of a modest Venus from Begram, E. Errington and O. Bopearachchi (eds.), SRAA, 6, 1999–2000, Kamakura, pp. 5–81

O. Bopearachchi, C. Landes, C. Sachs, De l’Indus à l’Oxus. Archéologie de l’Asie Centrale, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Montpellier, 2003, no. 283