Ancient Art Comparison: The Queen of the Night Vs Venus De Milo

Updated on December 23, 2017
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Jennifer Wilber is a freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in creative writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.

Queen of the Night vs. Venus de Milo
Queen of the Night vs. Venus de Milo

The Queen of the Night vs Venus de Milo

The Queen of the Night and Venus de Milo share some fascinating similarities despite being created by different cultures during different time periods. The Queen of the Night is a Babylonian relief sculpture by an unknown artist that is thought to represent the Babylonian goddess, Inanna/Ishtar. Venus de Milo is a marble statue by the Greek sculptor Alexandros and is thought to represent the Greek goddess Aphrodite. These two sculptures should be compared for a number of reasons. The goddesses that are thought to be represented by these two sculptures share a lot of similarities and are often compared to one another. Both Ishtar and Aphrodite are goddesses of love and fertility. Both of these sculptures show how their respective cultures celebrate their female deities, and both show the lack of taboo surrounding nudity in each of these cultures. The similarities and differences between The Queen of the Night and Venus de Milo give us a greater understanding of the differences and similarities between the ancient Babylonian and Greek cultures.

Unknown artist, The Queen of the Night, c. 1792-1750 BCE, Babylonia. terracotta clay relief, 19.4" x 14.5". British Museum, London.
Unknown artist, The Queen of the Night, c. 1792-1750 BCE, Babylonia. terracotta clay relief, 19.4" x 14.5". British Museum, London. | Source

The Queen of the Night

The Queen of the Night is an important piece of ancient Babylonian art. This work is a clay relief that was baked in an oven rather than sun-dried. Reliefs are sculptures attached to a background, creating a three-dimensional work of art that can be viewed only from the front. This type of sculpture was common in the ancient Babylonian world. Though similar clay sculptures were common in ancient Mesopotamia, historians know that this piece had great significance to the culture that produced it because of the way in which it was baked. Wood was rare in ancient Mesopotamia, so only very important clay art pieces were able to be fired in this way.

The Queen of the Night features a goddess with wings and talons for feet standing atop two lions with owls on either side. In each hand, she holds a rod and ring symbol. Though The Queen of the Night now shows only the color of the clay from which it was sculpted, it was originally painted in vibrant colors. It still shows small traces of pigments that were originally used to color the sculpture. Originally, the woman and owls were painted red, the background black, the lions white with black manes, and the headdress and rod and ring symbols gold (Mark).

The depicted woman’s headdress is representative of deities in Babylonian culture and the rod and ring symbols in each hand are likely symbols of divinity. The Queen of the Night is thought to represent the Babylonian goddess, Inanna/Ishtar, who was a goddess of love and fertility, though there is some dispute in the art community as to which goddess this piece was actually meant to represent. This piece reveals that reverence toward deities, including female goddesses, was very important to Babylonian culture (Khan Academy).

Plaster casts of Venus de Milo. Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology. Photo by Zde
Plaster casts of Venus de Milo. Cambridge Museum of Classical Archaeology. Photo by Zde | Source

Venus de Milo

The Venus de Milo is a carved marble statue from ancient Greece. This statue was made by the Greek sculptor Alexandros at about 150 BCE (Venus De Milo). It features a woman who is thought to represent a goddess. The figure is nude from the waist up and is wearing a garment of flowing cloth from the waist down. It is thought to represent the goddess Aphrodite, who was also known as Venus to the Romans.

This statue was created from several separate carved pieces of marble held together with vertical pegs, which was a common technique in ancient Greece. She originally wore several pieces of metal jewelry, which have since been lost to time, along with her arms. She may have also originally been embellished with polychromy, a technique for painting sculptures in vibrant colors.

Though she is nude from the waist up, the woman wears a garment over her lower body, which may indicate that the Greeks were beginning to value modesty more than earlier cultures. The luxurious draping fabric covering her lower body is intricately carved in a style commonly seen in Greek sculptures. This sculpture shows how the Greeks venerated their deities and viewed them as divine beings with perfect human bodies. It also shows that the Greeks viewed the human body as something to be celebrated, rather than something shameful to be fully hidden behind clothing (Astier).

Similarities between The Queen of the Night and Venus de Milo

The most obvious visual similarity between The Queen of the Night and Venus de Milo is that both sculptures feature nude (or nearly nude) female figures. Both of the works feature nude women who are thought to represent important goddesses to the cultures that produced them. This similarity is important because it shows that neither culture viewed the nude female form as a taboo. This representation of goddesses also shows that both of these cultures held their female divinities in high regard, which may show that these ancient cultures may have held women in higher regard that did later cultures that only acknowledged a male deity. These sculptures show that both the Babylonians and the Greeks viewed femininity as something to be celebrated. Both of these sculptures may have originally been painted in bold colors, which shows an attention to detail present in the artwork of both the Babylonians and the Greeks (Astier, Mark).

Differences Between The Queen of the Night and Venus de Milo

The biggest visual difference between the two works is that The Queen of the Night is a relief sculpture, whereas the Venus de Milo is a full 360-degree sculpture. Another important difference is that The Queen of the Night is fully nude, but Venus de Milo is clothed from the waist down. This may indicate that the Greeks were beginning to view the nude human form as more of a taboo than did the Babylonians. The Queen of the Night also features a number of visual elements other than the central female human figure, but Venus de Milo features only the female figure. The Queen of the Night is surrounded by lions and owls and holds a ring and rod in each of her hands. The Queen of the Night is looking directly at the viewer with each side of her body posed symmetrically, while Venus de Milo is posed looking to the side and her body is in a more relaxed, spiraling pose (Astier, Mark).

Venus de Milo appears to be more human, whereas The Queen of the Night features iconography that makes her appear further removed from humanity. The goddess depicted in The Queen of the Night has wings and bird talons, making her appear as an otherworldly being. Venus de Milo simply appears as an ordinary human woman. This may indicate that the Babylonians viewed their deities as beings further removed from humanity, while the Greeks may have viewed their deities as being more similar to humans.

Takeaway

The Queen of the Night and Venus de Milo both depict ancient goddesses. Each of these works reflect the art styles and religious beliefs of the cultures that produced them. The Babylonians were known for their clay reliefs, while the Greeks produced elegant marble statues. The Babylonians may have viewed their gods and goddesses as otherworldly beings with little in common with ordinary humans, while the Greeks may have seen their deities as having more in common with humanity. Both cultures produced statues that have had a great impact on our modern understanding of the ancient world, and both cultures had a great reverence for their female deities. While there are many differences between each of these works, and each of these cultures, there are still many similarities.

Sources

Astier, Marie-Bénédicte. "Work Aphrodite, Known as the "Venus De Milo"" Aphrodite, Known as the "Venus De Milo" Louvre, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016. <http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/aphrodite-known-venus-de-milo>.

"Khan Academy." Khan Academy. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016. <https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/british-museum/middle-east-bm/ancient-near-east-bm/a/the-queen-of-the-night-relief>.

Mark, Joshua J. "The Queen of the Night." Ancient History Encyclopedia. N.p., 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2016. <http://www.ancient.eu/article/658/>.

"Venus De Milo | Sculpture." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <http://www.britannica.com/topic/Venus-de-Milo>.

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    © 2017 Jennifer Wilber

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