The statue depicting Pauline Bonaparte as “Venus Victrix” (Venus the Conqueror) was commissioned by her husband, Prince Camillo Borghese, shortly after the couple arrived in Rome in 1804. The artist was the well-known sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822), who also created a number of other Bonaparte portraits, as well as mythological figures and funerary carvings. The statue of Pauline, one of his most famous works, was notable for the shocking near-nudity of its subject as well as for its elegance and artistry. Pauline is depicted as the Roman goddess of love, Venus, holding in her hand the apple which marked her as the winner in the divine beauty contest known as the Judgment of Paris.
Originally the statue was designed to be seen by candlelight, and the marble was rubbed with wax to increase reflections. The base of the statue had a mechanism allowing the piece to rotate in place, so that the viewer could admire Pauline from every side.
Ironically, by the time the statue was completed (1808), Pauline and Camillo were living apart. The finished statue was delivered first to Turin (where Camillo was serving as Governor-General under Napoleon). Following Napoleon’s defeat, it made its way back to Rome and after Camillo’s death was eventually put on display at the Villa Borghese.
For more information about the statue, visit the Galleria Borghese website.