How the Venus de Milo really lost her arms.....
Replying to my wife, you told us that you were intrigued by the story of the Venus of Milo. We have kept some relevant notes, but above all the memory of Mr.Olivier telling us this bit of history is still fresh in our minds.
In 1948 we found a flat to let which was not easy at that time and went to see the landlord, Mr.Olivier. He was pleased to find that I spoke French since he was of course French himself and he let us have the flat for 5 Guineas/week, half my income.
From time to time he invited us to join him for a game of canasta or just for a chat and one evening he told us his story.
"When I was a young man I was called to my uncle's house, as he was on the point of dying and wished to speak to me. He had a last request which I was to fulfill.
My uncle was the son of Louis Brest, who in 1820 was French Consul on the
His story sounded rather like a typical
A few days later or rather a few nights later, burglars, hired by the Greeks, broke into the consulate and despite a struggle in which the arms broke off, the consular servants could not stop the thieves carrying away the statue. It was loaded onto a Greek merchant ship in the harbour and this was due to sail the following day. However early in the morning of the following day, the French battleship sailed into the harbour, blocking the entrance. It trained it's guns onto the Greek merchantman and told them, surrender the statue intact or sink to the bottom.
Now, the Greeks wanted the statue, a Greek relic, the French wanted the statue, a French find, but in fact the
Now, my dear nephew, you will understand why my father's name should be inscribed on the pedestal and not that of d'Urville. He did nothing except sail his ship as ordered whilst my father was the discoverer and avoided its loss to the nation by his diplomacy. With that my uncle sank back and looked at me. What he evidently saw was a look of disbelief and he hit a small gong to summon his servant :"Jules, go to my desk and at the back of the bottom drawer you will find a rolled up document, bring it here and show it to my nephew". There indeed was the original document drawn up by the Sultan in
Eventually I did go to the Louvre and told them my uncle's story. They were of course most interested, particularly when they saw the original document. They wanted to buy this since it proved the real history of the discovery, but I refused to let them have it. It was mine and I intended to keep it. As a compromise the Louvre agreed to make an addition to the inscription on the pedestal, mentioning Louis Brest's part, but they would not erradicate the name of
This time it was our eyes which registered mild disbelief and Mr.Olivier soon dispelled this. We were sitting in his library and he drew back a small curtain to reveal a stout steel door to his strong-room. He went in (without us!) and brought out the original document in Greek and Turkish, giving the Sultan's edict, together with a translation in French. The translation dated back to 1919, authenticated by Heron de Villefosse, curator of antiquities at the Louvre.
This was an exciting story and it is a pity I cannot reproduce Mr.Olivier's delightful mixture of English and French with a nasal
Later my father in
I enclose the original newspapers of 1951 giving different versions, the last one, dated 26th August containing my father's comments. You will note with pleasure that he refers to
If you have a good raconteur on your staff, I am sure this would make a pleasant bed-time story in the bar. I personally believe Mr. Olivier's account as the only true one, the embellishments may be his but the basis is indisputable.