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Unidentified Roman sculptor, Cast of the Townley Venus

Cast of the Townley Venus, 1813

After Unidentified Roman sculptor

RA Collection: Art

This is a plaster cast of a Roman sculpture, the Townley Venus, now in the British Museum. It was found among the ruins of the Baths of the Emperor Claudius in Ostia by the artist, archaeologist and dealer Gavin Hamilton in 1775. Hamilton quickly entered negotiations to sell the statue to Charles Townley (1737-1805), a collector and antiquary who formed a famed collection of Classical antiquities in the late 18th century. Hamilton first alluded to the statue in a letter to Townley of January 1776, after which extended negotiations were conducted before the agreement to purchase finally took place in May 1777. The statue was not noted in Rome before its export, which Hamilton deliberately concealed—even shipping the statue to England as two separate fragments.

The Townley Venus was purchased by the British Museum in 1805, and in 1813 RA Council minutes record it was 'Resolved that a cast of the Venus in the Townley Collection be purchased for the Antique Academy.. moved by Mr Westmacott'. Later in 1813 Council determined 'that the Treasurer pay to Mr Theed RA. EL. 15 guineas for a cast of a Venus in the Townley Collection, purchased by him for the Academy at the request of the Council’. After the Royal Academy moved to Burlington House the cast was installed in a niche at the top of the main staircase, along with a plaster cast of the Venus de’ Medici until they were replaced by bronze statues of Gainsborough and Turner in the 1930s.

Townley variously identified the statue as Ariadne or Libera, but since 1808 she has been universally recognized as Venus (the name under which Hamilton offered her to Townley).

Further reading

Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), p.68

Object details

Cast of the Townley Venus
Townley Collection, British Museum, London
Object type
Sculpture Cast
Plaster cast

2150 mm x 950 mm x 730 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Purchased from William Theed the Elder RA in 1813
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