African Venus, 1851
Bronze, with silver and gold patination: marble
51.1 x 21.6 x 16.5 cm (20 1/8 x 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches)
Jesse Metcalf Fund 1995.013
This sculpture, called “The African Venus” by a French critic, was designed by Charles Cordier as a companion to a male portrait bust of a fictional “Saïd Abdullah of the Mayac Tribe, Kingdom of Darfour.” Both figures were modeled from life in Cordier’s studio and were early examples of his determination “to discover the different human types which come together to form a single people.” Cordier’s sculptures, which often incorporated colored stone and precious metal finishes, stood in striking contrast to the white marble figures that embodied Victorian and Second Empire decorum. The effectiveness of such techniques may be seen in this reduced-scale bronze cast, in which warm skin tones are evoked by Cordier’s use of a fine silver patina. The subject of an African Venus would have appealed to a predominantly male audience attracted by the myths of availability associated with women of foreign cultures. The model’s heavy-lidded eyes, parted lips, and lightweight drapery reinforce such stereotypes, but the realism and carriage of the figure’s head create a strong impression of individuality and dignity.