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The Callipygian Venus or Venus Kallipygos, ( Aphrodite Kallipygos, "Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks"), is a type of nude female statue of the Hellenistic era. In an example of anasyrma, it depicts a partially-draped woman, raising her light peplos to uncover her hips and buttocks, and looking back and down over her shoulder, perhaps to evaluate them.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, the statue was thought to illustrate a story from classical antiquity of two girls in Syracusemarker who were trying to decide which of them had the more shapely buttocks. The story is recorded in Athenaeus' Deipnosophists 12.554 c-e:
"The people of those days were so attached to their sensual pleasures that they even went so far as to dedicate a temple to Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks, for the following reason. Once upon a time a farmer had two beautiful daughters. One day these girls, getting into a dispute as to which one had a more beautiful backside, went out onto the public street. And by chance a young man was passing by, the son of a rich old man. They showed themselves to him, and when he saw them he voted in favor of the older girl. And in fact, falling in love with her, when he got back to town, he took to his bed and told his younger brother everything that had happened. And the younger brother also went to the country and saw the girls, and he fell in love with the other daughter. And so when the boys' father tried to get them to marry someone of the upper classes, he couldn't persuade his sons, and so he brought the girls in from the country, with their father's permission, and married them to his sons. And so these girls were called fair-buttocked by the citizens, as Cercidas of Megalopolis says in his Iambic Verses: "There was a pair of beautiful-buttocked girls in Syracuse." And so these girls, when they got wealthy and famous, founded a temple of Aphrodite and called the goddess the Fair-buttocked, as Archelaus of Chersonesus tells us in his Iambic Verses."

The fact that there was a religious cult of Aphrodite Kallipygos at Syracuse is also mentioned by the Christian author Clement of Alexandria in a list of erotic manifestations of pagan religion. Clement cites the poet Nicander of Colophon, and generously quotes the alternative term (kalligloutos, "with a beautiful bottom") that Nicander used.

Ancient examples

The best known example is a small Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic original. It was found at Rome. It was on show in the Palazzo Farnese and thus joined the Farnese collection when that palace was acquired. With that collection it found its way to Naples in 1802. It was then considered dangerously erotic, on the level of pornography (the more so for being partially draped rather than entirely nude like the Venus de Medici) and was included amongst other such material in the Secret Cabinetmarker.
The Naples example.

In 1836, Famin called it a "charming statuette" but noted that it was:
"...placed in a reserved hall, where the curious are only introduced under the surveillance of a guardian, though even this precaution has not prevented the rounded forms which won for the goddess the name of Callipyge, from being covered with a dark tint, which betrays the profane kisses that fanatic admirers have every day impressed there. We ourselves knew a young German tourist smitten with a mad passion for this voluptuous marble; and the commiseration his state of mind inspired set aside all idea of ridicule."

It is currently on display at the Museo Archeologico Nazionalemarker.

Modern copies

A marble copy by Jean-Jacques Clérion (1686) was sent to Versailles. Another copy was made by François Barois during his residence at the French Academy in Romemarker, 1683-86. It was sent to Versaillesmarker, then to Marly-le-Roimarker in 1695, where it was provided with additional marble draperies by Jean Thierry, not to offend an increasingly prudish public taste; it remained at Marly until the Revolution, when it found it way to the Jardin des Tuileriesmarker.

Augustus the Strong ordered a copy, which was executed by Pierre de l’Estache in Rome between 1722-23, for the Grosser Garten, Dresden. However it was destroyed in 1945 (Desmas 2002).

Modern appreciation

The 19th century identification was popularised by the 20th century lyrics of the Frenchman Georges Brassens, particularly an extract from La Fontaine which paraphrases Athenaeus' account and ends:


  1. The English word callipygian is defined as "having shapely buttocks" by Merriam-Webster.
  2. Conventionally presumed to be Venus, though it may equally be a portrait of a mortal woman, such as a hetaira.
  3. The gesture of Aphrodite/Venus lifting of the robe symbolized religious initiation and the ancient Greeks revered a woman's "rich" buttocks to obtain great wealth on earth as the two Syracusan sisters who inspired the Kallipygos idea, had embodied.
  4. "Exposed: The Victorian Nude". Tate, January 13, 2002. Retrieved on May 27, 2008.
  5. Literally, "was more beautiful-buttocked [kallipygotera]".
  6. eis erota empeson
  7. Kallipygoi
  8. kallipygon zeugos
  9. The original of this statue type was thought in the 19th century to be this temple's cult statue.
  10. Kallipygon
  11. Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 12.554 c-e. Translation by D. B. Levine, adjusted
  12. Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 2.39.2.
  13. Nicander fragment 23 (see the edition by A. S. F. Gow and A. F. Scholfield, 1953, p. 203). Nicander had to use a different word because kallipygos will not fit into Greek hexameter verse.
  14. The provenance sometimes given, from the Domus Aurea, is "highly improbable as the debris within its rooms did not contain high-quality objects of art" (Moormann 2003).
  15. Statuette, at that time, was not a synonym for figurine, but meant any smaller-than-life statue
  16. From Famin's catalogue entry for the work. A similar tale was told in classical antiquity of Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos, which had even been the subject of attempted sexual intercourse - Pseudo-Lucian, Amores 15.
  17. Its place in the Tuileries Gardens is currently taken by a cast (shown here), the original being conserved indoors in the Musée du Louvre.
  18. Accounts


  • Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, 1984. Taste and the Antique Cat. 86.
  • Laurentino García y García, Luciana Jacobelli, Louis Barré, 2001. Museo Segreto. With a Facsimile edition of Herculanum et Pompéi. Recueil général des peintures, bronzes, mosaïques... (1877). (Pompei: Marius Edizioni) Eric M. Moormann, On-line Bryn Mawr Classical Review 20.
  • Dericksen Brinkerhoff, review of Aphrodite Kallipygos by Gosta Saflund and Peter M. Fraser - American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1965), pp. 78-79.

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