Today in 1820 – Discovery of a Statue

Greece_location_map.svgImagine a clear day on the Aegean Sea, the sea an indigo blue, the sky azure. You are a twenty-three year old French officer aboard the naval schooner Estafette. The vessel drops anchor at Melos one of the Greek isles littering the sea.

This young ensign, Olivier Voutier, who knows a bit about antiquities, as a well-educated gentleman of the regency era would, takes a pick and shovel and hikes up a hillside with a couple of sailors toward the remains of an ancient theater, hoping to find antique statuary near the ruin. Already, Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin had brought back sculpted friezes and statues from the Parthenon, known as the “Elgin Marbles” to display at the British Museum.

220px-MilosNapoleon, another lover of antiquity, had purchased many Roman sculptures when he conquered Italy and brought them to the Louvre in Paris.

All things Greek, Roman and Egyptian were highly valued in Europe at the time of the regency.

On this 8th of April, 1820, young Voutier noticed a peasant farmer in a nearby field. He was digging around an ancient wall to use its stones in a structure he was building.  Voutier noticed he stopped and was staring at something in a niche in the wall. Voutier drew near and saw the partially buried statue of a female torso.

Despite her broken arms, chipped nose and other imperfections, Voutier was enthralled by the statue of the nude. Along with the farmer, he was the first person to gaze upon the Venus de Milo since it had graced an ancient Greek wall.

The farmer, who had no use for such statuary, was ready to shovel earth back over it, when Voutier recognized the beauty of this classical sculpture and persuaded him to dig it out.

Eventually Voutier was able to bring other French officials to see the statue. Another naval officer, Jules Dumont d’Urvilles, went to Constantinople, the head of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Greece and the Greek Isles at that time, and persuaded the French Ambassador to purchase the statue for France.

It was brought to France in 1821 and presented to King Louis XVIII, who donated it to the Louvre220px-Paris_Louvre_Venus_de_Milo_Debay_drawing. The statue was not found in one piece and was broken in parts. The torso was carved from one block of marble, the draped legs from another, smaller blocks for each arm and the left foot. Fragments of the right arm were unearthed as well as the left hand holding an apple, but they were later discarded as not being part of the original statue because the carving was rougher.

The original plinth or pedestal it rested on was also found nearby but because the inscription carved in it with the artist’s name dated it to the Hellenistic period, rather than the earlier Greek Classical, it devalued the statue in the eyes of scholars at the time, so they discarded the plinth and continued to claim it as a statue from the Classical Greek period.

Today, millions of people visit the Louvre to view the Venus de Milo, along with the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, another Greek statue.

Aphrodite_of_Milos
Aphrodite (Venus) of Milo

 

Who Were the Bow Street Runners?

The courtroom at #4 Bow Street.
The courtroom at #4 Bow Street.

Traditionally, every male householder in London was expected to police the streets in their neighborhood, and every citizen was to report anyone they witnessed committing a crime. This changed in the eighteenth century because of increasing concerns about the threat of dangerous criminals who were attracted by the growing wealth of London’s middle class.

Prompted by a post-war crime wave in 1749, Magistrate Henry Fielding (who himself was a playwright and novelist) hired a small group of men to locate and arrest serious offenders. He operated out of No. 4 Bow Street, hence the name “Bow Street Runners.”

Magistrate Henry Fielding
Magistrate Henry Fielding

Fielding petitioned the government and received funding, but even so, he soon ran out of money to pay these men a worthy salary. Still, the Runners were committed to justice, so they took on odd jobs such as watchmen or detectives for hire or even—as in the case of Nicholas Brentwood, the hero in my upcoming release Brentwood’s Ward—guarding people or treasures.

What attracted my interest as an author was an old newspaper advertisement put out by Fielding. It encouraged the public to send a note to Bow Street as soon as any serious crime occurred so that “a set of brave fellows could immediately be dispatched in pursuit of the villains.” I wondered about those “brave fellows” and what kind of villains they might come up against, and thus was born Nicholas Brentwood.

Despite Bow Street’s efforts, most Londoners were opposed to the development of an organized police force. The English tradition of local government was ingrained deeply, and they feared the loss of individual liberty. So, as gallant as the Runners were in tracking down criminals, the general public did not always view them in a positive light. Even the nickname given them by the public—Bow Street Runners—was considered derogatory and was a title the officers never used to refer to themselves.

Bow Street eventually gave way to the Metropolitan Police, and by 1839, the Runners were completely disbanded. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still read about them . . .

Brentwood's Ward Cover Peek

BRENTWOOD’S WARD (pre-orders available)

Place an unpolished lawman named Nicholas Brentwood as guardian over a spoiled, pompous beauty named Emily Payne and what do you get? More trouble than Brentwood bargains for. She is determined to find a husband this season. He just wants the large fee her father will pay him to help his ailing sister. After a series of dire mishaps, both their desires are thwarted, but each discovers that no matter what, God is in charge.