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Venus Pudica

"...he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person."

Letter from Euphemia Gray to her father

A salutary reminder of the difference between art and life is the unhappy example of John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic, and his wife Euphemia (Effie) Gray. Having wooed her since she was thirteen, he married the girl seven years later, in 1848. On their wedding night, Ruskin was appalled to discover that she had pubic hair—his knowledge of female anatomy having been limited only to the smooth raised mound of marble he had seen in Greek and Roman statues. This, at least, is the presumed reason he never consummated their marriage, which was annulled six years later.

Effie's account was corroborated in a statement presented by Ruskin at the proceedings. "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it." Although familiar with the nude from his study of pictures and statues, it is probable that Effie was the only naked woman Ruskin had even seen. It very well may be that he thought her to be uniquely disfigured when, in fact, his wife was no different than any other woman. A year after the annulment, Effie married Ruskin's protégé John Everett Millais and bore him eight children.

In 1858, Ruskin became enamored of Rose La Touche, whom he had met when she was only ten, and proposed marriage when she was eighteen. She died insane less than a decade later and likely caused the onset of insanity in Ruskin, himself.

The detail above is the Esquiline Venus, which is in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (Rome). Its counterpart below, illuminated by the early morning sun, is identified only as torse d'Aprodite and in the Louvre (Paris).

Despite the title above, neither torso is an example of the pudica type; indeed, they are illustrated here to represent just the opposite.

The "Venus Pudica" describes a pose (most famously presented by the Colonna Venus) in which the goddess covers her pudenda or vulva with her hand. It is one that is not assumed by the male but rather serves to draw attention in the female to the very area ostensibly being hidden.

Pudica is the feminine form of pudico ("modest") and pudenda, the feminine participle meaning "of which to be ashamed." It therefore has several connotations in Latin: the vulva (although the term originally was used indifferently to identify the genitalia of both sexes) and/or shame or disgust.

Reference: Millais and the Ruskins (1967) by Mary Lutyens.

See also Esquiline Venus.

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