Ancient Roman statue of Venus visits US capital

One of the best known ancient Roman sculptures, the Capitoline Venus, went on display Wednesday in a museum in the US capital, the statue's first trip ever across the Atlantic.

The nearly two-meter tall (six foot, six-inch) beauty is intact except for the nose, some fingers, and one hand that broke off and was reattached.

"This is the first time we loan a statue so important," said the Director of the Capitoline Museum in Rome, Claudio Parisi Presicce, who accompanied the statue to Washington. "It never went out of the museum voluntarily."

Presicce said that Napoleon Bonaparte took the statue in 1797 and put it in the Louvre museum in Paris, but it was returned in 1816 after Napoleon's downfall.

The full-scale female nude statue was unearthed in the 1670s, where it had been buried beneath a large garden in the remains of a building in Rome.

The statue is also known as the Modest Venus because she attempts to hide her nudity with her hands.

Museum curators have become cautious about displaying nude art since a woman in April attacked a painting by French impressionist Paul Gauguin because she felt it showed nudity and homosexuality. The painting, "Two Tahitian Women," was protected by a transparent acrylic shield and sustained no damage.

"We do have guards posted. We feel assured it will be safe," said National Gallery of Art spokeswoman Deborah Ziska.

The Capitoline Venus will be on display at the National Gallery of Art in the US capital until September 5. It will be in the West Building Rotunda, an area with a design based on the Pantheon in Rome.

"The visitor can walk entirely around the sculpture. It can be seen from any perspective," said the National Gallery's Chief of Exhibitions, Dodge Thomson.

The mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, was also in town to sign a sister-city relationship agreement with Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray.

The Venus exhibit is part of a broader show of art from Roman museums that will be on display through 2013 in major US cities including San Francisco and New York, as well as Toronto, Canada.

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